People First! with David Burkus

Essential Skills for Leading a Remote Team


By Morag Barrett

David Burkus is one of the world’s leading business thinkers, the author of four books, and his insights on leadership and teamwork have been shared in various publications. Also, his TED talk has been viewed more than two million times. 

Back to the Basics…
Young David longed to be a professional wrestler but later he pivoted into a focus on storytelling and was very interested in becoming a writer. The drama of storytelling remained a central focus of his, but I suppose the appeal of long hair, big muscles, and tight shorts eventually faded. What became most exciting to David was the idea of using storytelling to tell true stories that impact people in massive ways.

Storytelling Isn’t Just For Kids
There are two types of stories that get David excited: stories about famous people or companies that you’ve never heard of, and stories about people who are so incredible they should be famous. Stories are a powerful way to express concepts--people often don’t remember concepts but they do remember stories! You can think of stories like they’re chocolate covered broccoli--if you want someone to eat their broccoli (learn a concept), you sometimes have to cover the broccoli in chocolate (tell a great story). When you think back to the conferences and workshops you’ve attended, what sticks out to you: the dry concepts and theory or the engaging stories that contain the helpful information inherently?

Working From Home
While David loves to focus on storytelling, he also has expertise navigating the contemporary business world. The events of the past year have been difficult for everyone and have created many challenges and some opportunities. Working from home is a hot topic and it is important to understand that there is a difference between choosing to work from home and being forced to work from home. There have been many challenges that have arisen from working from home and this time of change has caused great leaders to continue to succeed and poor or mediocre leaders to be exposed. People that lead from a place of trust, autonomy, and support are doing really well in this transition while micro-managers are struggling. 

Jobs Jobs Jobs!
There is a misconception that people are trapped in their current role -- that there isn’t a job market out there. This just isn’t true! Organizations are still hiring and filling positions and an interesting component of the current moment is the way that new employees are onboarded. Onboarding processes that focus on relationships and connection are much more effective than process oriented on boarding. However, the process side of onboarding is inherently necessary so the best companies have developed programs that use a combination of these two components. For example, one successful company pairs a new employee with a coworker from their team to help create a connection while working through necessary details.

Where’s the Connection?
Since the start of the current health crisis, there has been a 25% decrease in the average person’s network because we aren’t meeting in public. In this we do find a gender gap as females tend to bond over discussion and have done a better job of staying connected while men have struggled without shared activity opportunities. We need our relationships intact so we can move through this together and avoid isolation. One way to cultivate relationships is to always have something to invite people to. This is relevant advice for both professional and personal relationships.

How Do You Create Culture?
The events of the past year have wildly decreased or completely eliminated unstructured time at the office--the way in which the majority of workplace culture and employee bonds are created. This is one of the biggest things we’ve forgotten or ignored over the past year. Yes, it is important to stop by and say happy birthday to your coworker even though they forgot your birthday! The teams that are thriving in the current paradigm are those that have a shared understanding of company culture and of team identity. Both of these things are built during deliberately unstructured time. Culture has always been built around the little interactions and shared experiences and now it must be a lot more intentional or it won’t happen. There is no going back to what was, so leaders must start learning these habits because the future of work is working from anywhere. 

Watch away: Here!
Treat your earbuds: Here!


Resources:
Website
TED Talk
Leading From Anywhere
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