Featured image depicting Inclusion Part 3: Challenges and opportunities of leading virtually

Inclusion Part 3: Challenges and opportunities of leading virtually

This third blog on the topic of an inclusive safety culture looks at the guiding principles for becoming an inclusive leader in the virtual world.

By JMJ  |  December 16, 2021

In the third and final part of our series on the challenges of the virtual workplace, we focus on how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the role of leaders. Faced with a fearful and anxious workforce, the pressure on leadership to be better at reaching out, communicating, understanding and empathizing with their people has intensified. This blog challenges individual leaders to make a commitment to adapt to the changing working environment and do things differently.

The most important challenge in today’s working environment is leadership

In the first of this series of articles, ‘Driving an Inclusive Culture in the Virtual Workplace’, we addressed why leaders need to pay extra attention to inclusivity as they, their teams and stakeholders navigate working virtually. Peeling back the onion layer, how do we address these challenges? Our second blog, ‘Effective Virtual Communication in an Inclusive Culture’, discussed the actions people at all levels of an organization need to take to be communicative and inclusive while working remotely. In this final article, we’ll turn our attention to the most important challenge of all, leadership.

How to be a great virtual leader

We were thrown into becoming virtual leaders with little or no preparation or upfront training on the complexities of managing remotely. Those who adapted to the next normal by educating themselves on how to be great virtually inclusive leaders are now reaping the benefits. They aren’t solely reliant on traditional ways of conducting meetings and having conversations and have learned to listen for what they don’t hear, to be intuitive, and to trust themselves to lead teams and organizations inclusively and make things happen differently.

At JMJ, we coach and support around several leadership principles and practices. One principle is in the art of ‘being’. As leaders, we can get caught in the demands and expectations of ‘doing’ the tasks that create processes for flow, make productivity happen, meet the demands of our clients/customers, etc. However, the more we learn about the art of great leadership, the more we know that the character, values, and gestures of leaders are what drive individuals and teams. Practicing inclusiveness is critical.

The assertion is that leaders are aware of who they are and who they want to be. Leaders look within, embrace ongoing development, and seek to understand themselves. In other words, they work on ‘being’ by identifying practices and making them happen. There are keystone practices – actions great leaders do all the time that show who they are, what they care about, how they interact with their teams and within their organizational culture – that can help in becoming a virtually inclusive leader. Ask yourself how you are ‘being’ in each of these practices. Do you have knowledge of them and how do you apply them?

  1. Developing and expanding relationship(s)
  2. Making it personal
  3. Having an integral perspective
  4. “Owning” the perceptions that drive the action
  5. Taking responsibility for the current reality
  6. Taking a stand
  7. Expressing appreciation and acknowledgment

Becoming a transformational leader

Every organization and every team within that organization has a dominant culture and individuals (including managers) working alongside individuals who are in the non-dominant group. If you are a leader and/or a team manager on a project or within an organization, you are the dominant person within your sphere of influence. Challenge yourself and empower your team by purposefully practicing virtual inclusive leadership:

  • Start with yourself: How can you lead others/support others if you are not in tune to your own thoughts and emotions? Learn to be self-aware by deliberately focusing on understanding how you can be perceived in any given situation. You can only adjust if you know your starting point.
  • Make a commitment to learn: Put time into gathering knowledge for self-improvement.
  • Learn to listen: Many leaders view their role as controlling the conversation and making decisions. However, listening is an extremely valuable skill for a leader.
  • Develop virtual inclusive leadership skills: During each virtual meeting, listen for what isn’t being said. Take notes on what seems different. Reach out to individuals with specific inquiries about cares/concerns. Be specific in what you heard and ask if there is any need for assistance.
  • Practice watching for the individual(s) that aren’t speaking. In the virtual world, it’s easy for people can hide in the background. Take notes on who is talking the most and those who are not contributing. Follow up with individuals with inquiry, such as, ‘Today in our meeting, I noticed you were quiet; is everything ok?’
  • Self-assess through a trusted internal leadership partner: Share your reflections, approaches and growth desires around inclusivity with a trusted individual. Ask for, and be open to, feedback from this partner. Reflect and use their feedback to continually improve.

Everybody has a part to play

If you are a member of a team, but not necessarily part of the dominant group, you also have a strong role to play in building an inclusive productive environment:

  • Challenge yourself professionally and personally: Take the opportunity that’s provided. Support the dominant group by speaking up. Remaining silent when you have ideas won’t support the growth of an inclusive culture.
  • Make your presence felt: Be aware of your own communication styles and approaches as well as those of the rest of the team members. Ask if the team has set up covenants and commitments around virtual behavior. If not, volunteer to be part of the creation team.
  • Practice active listening and care. Challenge your own perceptions of how virtual engagements are either inclusive or non-inclusive, and trust that you can make a difference.

The virtual inclusive leadership challenge

Empower and challenge yourself and other leaders. Practice intentional inclusiveness and gain feedback on how you’re being perceived. Now more than ever, we have been afforded an opportunity to focus on inclusivity in a dynamic way, leading individuals and teams in a virtual environment. Embracing this opportunity will benefit us and our organizations now and in the future. Why wait?

About JMJ

For over three decades, JMJ has been delivering impactful cultural change to help executives, leaders and front-line workers transform safety, sustainability, and business performance. We combine the deep experience of our people with our proprietary Transformation Cloud platform to deliver breakthrough results, making the impossible possible. www.jmj.com

Have questions or want more information? Contact us