Home Blog Leadership Reimagined: Fostering Resilience and Adaptability in a Digital Age

Leadership Reimagined: Fostering Resilience and Adaptability in a Digital Age

July 03, 2024
Shot of a businessman giving a presentation to his colleagues in a boardroom.

It's pretty interesting to think back to work environments in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Most people reported to an office in person every day, sometimes commuting for hours. The rapid shift to remote work was bumpy for many and thrust team leaders into roles they weren't accustomed to. Now, several years post-lockdown, many workers are returning to a daily office routine. However, other organizations are finding new ways to bring their teams together.

As of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home, while 28.2% work a hybrid model,1 and some leaders are discovering that a new set of social skills and emotional intelligence are necessary for the effective management they were known for in-office.

Strategies for leading remote teams

Many aspects of effective leadership for remote teams are the same as in-person workers: setting clear expectations, open communication, providing recognition of achievements. However, the manner in which these methods are pursued may take a new level of emotional intelligence and self-awareness.

To start with, leaders must embrace the idea of distributed leadership, which gives team members more autonomy while still working toward a central goal. While it's possible to install surveillance software and mandate constant meetings and check-ins, effective leaders know that those tactics can diminish trust and ultimately job satisfaction of their teams. Leaders who practice distributed leadership embrace the expertise of their employees and arm them with the tools necessary for competent decision-making and completing work no matter where they're located.

Similarly, managers of remote employees might want to discuss changing performance metrics with human resource management teams. When you entrust your team members to do their jobs effectively outside out of the office, you could consider moving away from time-based assessments to a results-oriented approach that values contribution over presence.

That being said, visibility at work is still important and in a remote or hybrid team, effective communication is paramount. Emotionally intelligent leaders recognize that communication is made up of much more than words and visibility is much more than physical presence. Nonverbal cues like body language and eye contact may not be made through video screens for remote employees. Similarly, a remote team member who consistently attends meetings with their camera off is missing out on making personal connections with their coworkers, who never get to see their expressions. Further, making sure to give remote employees the opportunity to participate in meetings, socialize with their coworkers, and occasionally attend office events can be powerful ways to make sure the entire team feels seen and heard.

The importance of emotional intelligence in leadership

Emotional intelligence skills have always been an asset for effective leaders. Beyond the traditional metrics of success such as technical skills, strategic thinking, and experience, leaders with high emotional intelligence have the ability to identify, understand, and manage not just one’s own emotions, but those of others as well. This capability is particularly crucial in remote settings, where communicating effectively in the absence of face-to-face interactions demands an amplified sensitivity to emotional cues and a profound understanding of communication nuances.

Why is emotional intelligence important for managers?

Emotional intelligence in leadership fuels a more cohesive and positive team dynamic. It enables leaders to operate with more empathy and self-awareness to tailor their management style to their own behavior and their direct reports' emotional states, promoting a culture of trust and transparent communication. Consider a scenario where a team member is struggling to meet deadlines. An emotionally intelligent leader might recognize signs of stress or burnout behind the performance issue, addressing the root cause through supportive dialogue and adaptive workload management rather than purely focusing on the missed deadlines and attributing them to lack of technical skills.

In digital contexts, emotional intelligence is instrumental in conflict resolution by fostering an environment where empathy is prioritized over judgment. For example, misunderstanding and miscommunication are common in remote teams due to the reliance on digital communication platforms. A leader with high emotional intelligence can navigate these challenges by reading between the lines, asking open-ended questions, and inviting feedback, thereby clarifying intentions and preventing potential conflicts or negative emotions related to work.

Furthermore, leaders with high emotional intelligence are adept at recognizing the diverse emotional triggers and needs of their team, and adapting their leadership style accordingly. This adaptability can significantly enhance team morale and productivity, particularly in digital environments where self-management and personalized motivation strategies can greatly impact individual and collective performance.

In essence, developing emotional intelligence can not only make you a more effective leader but also help build resilient, adaptable, and deeply connected remote or hybrid teams. By prioritizing emotional intelligence, leaders can ensure their teams are not only efficient and productive but also feel valued, understood, and engaged, no matter the physical distance–components that are known to be key to job satisfaction.

Practical tips for managing remote employees

It's estimated that by 2025, 32.6 million Americans will work remotely,1 meaning social skills like self-awareness and high emotional intelligence will only become more important to have as a part of your repertoire. How do you get social awareness and incorporate these practices into your leadership skills? Here are some tips:

  • Establish clear communication channels: Implement regular check-ins and ensure that communication platforms meet the team's needs. Emphasize the importance of clear, concise, and frequent communication.
  • Set defined goals and expectations: Clearly articulate the objectives and expectations for each team member, focusing on outcomes rather than activity. Transparently communicate project deadlines, deliverables, and performance metrics.
  • Foster a culture of trust and autonomy: Encourage autonomy by trusting employees to manage their tasks efficiently. Avoid micromanagement, instead support and empower team members to take ownership of their work.
  • Promote flexibility and work-life balance: Recognize the importance of flexibility, especially in remote settings. Allow employees to work during hours that suit their productivity peaks and personal commitments, fostering a healthy work-life balance.
  • Encourage professional development: Support continuous learning by allowing time for courses, training, and professional growth activities that enhance skills relevant to their roles and the team's success.
  • Implement virtual team building activities: Organize regular team-building exercises that are accessible remotely. Activities like virtual coffee breaks, online games, or group workouts can enhance camaraderie and team cohesion.
  • Provide consistent feedback: Schedule individual feedback sessions to discuss progress, challenges, and professional development. Constructive feedback helps in personal growth and in reinforcing the connection between remote team members and leadership.
  • Leverage emotional intelligence: Approach leadership with empathy, understanding the unique challenges remote work poses on individual team members. Be attentive to signs of burnout or disengagement and address them proactively.
  • Recognize and reward achievements: Acknowledge individual and team accomplishments publicly within the organization. Recognition goes a long way in motivating remote employees and reinforcing their value to the team.

Build emotional intelligence for leadership roles at Marquette University

With the popularity of remote work today, leadership qualities such as effective communication, emotional intelligence, self-awareness and the ability to foster trust and autonomy stand out as critical for navigating contemporary challenges. Embracing these attributes is a journey of adaptation and growth, especially as the nature of work environments evolves. Leaders must consistently assess and refine their strategies to stay ahead.

Advancing your leadership skills through targeted studies or specialized training can significantly contribute to this development. Marquette University's online MBA offers an array of courses focused on cultivating these essential leadership skills. Leading People and Change, Leadership Coaching and Development and Human Capital Strategy will help you learn the key social skills for building relationships, becoming more self-aware, how to practice active listening and resolving conflicts.

For more information on how our graduate programs can enhance your leadership capabilities in this digital age, schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor. Your journey towards impactful leadership in the modern workplace starts here.