THE LOCKDOWN LEADER: focus on ‘in group’ development

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A day of online video meetings is potentially more exhausting, than face-to-face. Communicating virtually is more difficult, as unlike the body language available when we are in the same room, there are limited non-verbal cues to decipher. We therefore find it harder to sense the other person too.

Perhaps, being in the same vicinity makes it easier for the mirror neurons in our brain to fire too? Mirror neurons are involved in empathy, social and understanding. They activate when we perceive others doing an action and when we do an action. As such, they are also thought to be responsible for contagious yawning.

Mirror neurons in brain

Therefore, leaders are finding that they are having to focus even more on developing the relationships with their direct reports. When you are working remotely, just discussing getting on with the task does not cut it.

Humans are wired to belong. Social stress, such as a perception of feeling excluded from the group (e.g. not invited to a meeting), bereavement, relationship break-ups and arguments within the team fire the same networks in the brain as physical pain.

Imagine that your latest online presentation was lit,* however, regrettably did not go quite as planned. Surprisingly, the key influencer did not appreciate being permanently on mute and put into an online breakout room – on their own! There was a distinct lack of enthusiasm from the attendees and as a result, you feel that you let your colleagues down.

NVC hands

According to neuroscience research, ingesting a pain relief pill will indeed benefit your mood.** However, before you pop a paracetamol to relieve the hurt feelings and disappointment, be aware that there could be a risk of the brain turning psychopathic due to an indication that frequent use of acetaminophen (paracetamol) reduces feelings of empathy. Hmm. On reflection, some CEOs appear to be habitual users…

Consider the time spent getting to know the lives of those who you are working or doing business with, as an integral skill to being an effective leader. For some, building relationships is a natural talent, for the more task-focused leaders, it takes a lot of attention and effort.

Team video call

Your work towards this will not go unnoticed. Directors who have undertaken 360 Degree feedback assessments frequently share scores and comments with me about how much their team, stakeholders and customers feel they know them as a real person (vice versa) and what the organisational culture is like.

As a result of the debrief in their executive coaching session, they often set themselves actions to organise more social activities and create 1:1 meetings focused on the direct report’s career development, instead of always discussing getting the job done.


* 2020 teen slang for “amazing”. You’re welcome.

** Not that I am advocating pain relief medication: opioid drugs are highly-addictive. Public Health England reported that 1 in 4 adults in UK is taking addictive prescription medicines long-term with women 1.5 times more likely to be treated with them and rates higher overall in deprived areas (September 2019).