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How to Lead by Example in a Hybrid Work Environment

The reality of a hybrid workforce with geographically dispersed employees is not going away. The modern hybrid workplace includes a combination of time spent in the office and working remotely. The pandemic has touched every part of our lives and has dramatically changed the way people work and the workplace. Even though many of us crave the return of in-person social connections in the office, many of us have become accustomed to the flexibility that comes with a work-from-home environment. Returning to old office routines seems less likely for many organizations. According to a McKinsey & Company global survey across nine countries, it is estimated that based on an analysis of the work, up to 20 percent of an organization's workforce could work remotely three to five days a week. Combined with the allure of shorter commutes and increased time with family, this research points to a workforce looking for something different. A study of 2300 employees across ten industries and from a wide range of seniority levels, roles, and ages in the U.S. found that 52 percent surveyed prefer a hybrid workplace. Leading by example is essential to effective leadership, and a do as I say, not as I do approach doesn't work, but how can a leader effectively lead by example in a hybrid workforce environment? Would you follow you?

Why leading by example is powerful?

Those already in leadership and those currently aspiring to lead can benefit by understanding how to model the way. The behaviors of leaders trigger behaviors in followers. A peer-reviewed study of culturally diverse leaders working across different organizations found that modeling the behaviors leaders want from followers significantly impacts the behaviors of followers. Influential leaders align their actions with their values. Modeling the way is all about going first and setting a daily example of commitment. Leading by example begins with clarifying your values and then letting your values guide your actions. Consider the question, would you follow you? We prefer to follow leaders who listen actively, help us succeed, and demonstrate compassion.

Understanding your values and aligning your behaviors

While leadership behaviors prescribe what a leader should do, a leader's values will influence what a leader will do. Good leadership involves a combination of competence, character, and commitment to challenging work. Values and character are often not discussed within human resource development departments. However, for many years they have been perceived to be foundational to good leadership. Values do not need to be considered subjective and can be measured.

To understand your values better, the VIA Character Strength Survey is a valuable tool for defining a leader's values. The free VIA Character Strength Survey provides insights into your 24-character strengths in rank order. Character strengths are values in action or positive traits for thinking, feeling, and behaving that benefit the leader and others. The VIA has been completed by over 15 million people globally, and all of the scales have satisfactory reliability (> 0.70 alphas).

Combining the understanding of your values with a 360-degree assessment and coaching feedback can improve self-awareness and increase leadership effectiveness. A study of 1,035 middle managers revealed that leaders could avoid derailing by developing self-awareness and leadership competencies. Implementing a leadership 360 assessment process promotes becoming more situationally aware of a leader's behaviors and the perceptions others have about the leader's behavior. 360-degree leadership assessment has been around for over 25 years. While 360-degree feedback effectively improves leadership skills across all cultures, it is most effective in cultures with low power distance and individualistic values such as Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

360-degree assessment refers to an organizational chart view from where the rater feedback originates concerning the leader being assessed. Confidentiality is a foundational aspect of 360-degree leadership feedback. Responses are anonymously collected and grouped by the rater's association with the leader. The feedback collected is aligned to measure the degree of the leader's performance on each behavior and group perception. At the organizational talent level, the 360-degree assessment provides input into the team and organizational performance and corporate culture.

Modeling the way with virtual employees

The virtual workplace requires enhanced communication to overcome the real challenges of geographical distance. It is easier to be mindful in a conventional meeting than when you are meeting remotely. Leaders need to focus on being present and leading with purpose when interacting with remote employees. In my experience, it is easier for people to become distracted in a work-from-home environment. Cats, Amazon deliveries, and customers at the coffee shop can easily distract employees working remotely. Also, numerous research studies have shown that different communication mediums have varying degrees of effectiveness with supporting in-the-moment feedback, information sharing, communication cues, conveying emotions, and customizing the message.

The following are a few tips to help you model the way with a hybrid workforce:

  • Visualize. Being mindful and leading with purpose begins with visualizing yourself leading the way you want to lead. When meeting in the office, it is easy to focus on being present and purposeful. During virtual meetings, visualize yourself in the other person's physical presence.

  • Minimize distractions. Be aware that multitasking can be disastrous. Try to eliminate your distractions when meeting with others virtually. Turn off devices not being used during the meeting and, at a minimum, turn off notifications. Find a quiet place in a controlled environment to conduct your meetings.

  • Take notes. Try using a journal to jot down a summary of what is being said during meetings. This will help prevent your mind from wandering during the conversation and focus on understanding.

  • Listen empathetically. Because we are less aware of social cues in a virtual meeting, it is helpful to track how much time you are talking versus listening. Try to identify the emotions behind what others are saying and check for understanding.

  • Select a strength. Leverage your understanding of your values and choose one that you would like to understand better and develop. Ahead of the meeting, give thought to ways you can express the character strength with others. Then give it a try and track how it goes.

  • Avoid distance bias. Unconsciously favoring in-office employees can create unintended consequences for individual employees, teams, and the whole organization. Check out this article for further reading on treating remote employees fairly in a hybrid workplace.

What's the real challenge you face with leading by example in a hybrid workplace?

If you have organizational or leadership development needs you cannot solve independently, we're ready to partner with you to craft a solution specific to your organization's context and challenges. Getting started is as easy as visiting or contacting us via email


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VIA Institute on Character (2021). Character strengths survey.


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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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