Over the past 9 months, most of us have probably learned a thing or two about how to be a better leader in the virtual working world. 

 But, have we perfected virtual leadership? 

Even those who consider themselves to be fluent in leadership and influencing others will need more than 9 months to make a similar impact in this different ball game. 

In this year’s Learning and Development Virtual Summit hosted by Opal Group, learning and talent leaders from various industries were brought together to share best practices to excel at being a leader in a virtual environment. 

Churchill’s very own Jayne Jenkins facilitated a panel discussion on virtual leadership with Tracy Dodd, Head of Global Talent at Tiffany & co, Shawna Erdmann, Sr. VP of Learning at Comcast, and Victoria Alexander, VP of Learning and Development at Signature Healthcare. 

If you missed the session, don’t worry, because we’ve compiled the 10 key lessons that you can employ to benefit your people and your organization.  


1.The best way to approach Learning and Development (L&D) is through creating peer cohorts.

Employees want to feel like they can relate to their peers and are sharing similar experiences. Creating a level of healthy competition, such as naming a “valedictorian” of each cohort, can create higher engagement and make learning more fun. 


2. Drive clarity without certainty.

This is potentially one of the hardest but most important things a leader should do during ambiguity. Promises cannot be made. Certainly of the future cannot be predicted, but leaders can be clear about what their expectations and hopes are and what they are striving towards. Transparency is key in transformational leadership, and employees will not only feel better but will also work harder when they feel they are being included in the vision. 


3. Instill critical skills for working through a pandemic for all employees, regardless of level, including resilience, empathy, and learning agility.

Resilience gives people the strength to move forward. Empathy allows people to feel the hardships that others are experiencing. Learning agility allows people to be flexible in rolling with the punches and taking each day as it comes. These skills will serve everyone well when working through this pandemic and beyond.

4. Invite executives to be part of building excitement around L&D.

Executives and senior leaders set the culture and tone for everything that goes on in the organization. Employees want to know that their higher-ups believe in and value the same things that they are doing, regardless of level. 


5. Bring senior leaders on to be teachers.

Take building excitement to the next step. Having senior leaders as teachers brings the opportunity for employees at all levels to form relationships with executives that they might not otherwise be able to. Their ability to have access to a senior executive in their area of expertise will allow for mentorship and bonding to prepare future leaders for these senior positions. 


6. Be deliberate about encouraging leadership at every level of the organization.

You may have heard that everyone and anyone can be a leader or that leadership has no title. This is certainly true, but it doesn’t mean everyone will feel comfortable about stepping up to the plate to be a leader. Employees need to be empowered to bring out their leadership skills, especially the ones who are more shy, reserved, or even introverted. This level of comfort and empowerment can be achieved by creating an environment that is psychologically safe. 


7. Share success with everyone to demonstrate what’s expected.

Occasionally, outcomes or definitions of success can be ambiguous or lack measure. This miscommunication of expectations can result in incomplete work or missing the mark. When managers share and outline successes, teams can see and understand exactly what’s expected and can understand what they can do to achieve that same benchmark. 


8. Have a few coaching questions in your back pocket to use when needed.

Not everyone will be a master coach, and many haven’t learned the skills on how to be. Coaching conversations are important because they create space between the manager and employee for open-ended, non-accusatory, learning-oriented questions. What all managers can do is to have a few coaching questions on hand to ask when having critical conversations. A few that you can use include: 

  • What does success look like or mean to you? 
  • How can I serve you to be successful; what do you need from me? 
  • What is working well and what do you need help with? 
  • Tell me more about X situation. 

Notice none of these questions can be answered with a “yes” or “no”. Questions that warrant one-word answers close off the conversation to digging deeper and learning more. Use some of these questions above or others that invite the other person into a deeper conversation. 


9. Be a model for mental health by showing your employees the importance of taking breaks.

Don’t be “busy” all the time, whether you’re actually busy doing work or creating work for yourself to fulfill the need of being “busy”. Normalize taking breaks and prioritizing mental health. The level of “busy” you are or the number of times you take breaks does not define your work ethic and value. Do what you need to do for yourself to perform your best. 


10. Engage the manager of each team member going through a learning process.

When the manager is in the know about what their employees’ skillsets and desires are for learning, they can best match those employees’ strengths with meaningful work. The learning experience is only as valuable as what the employee does AFTER the training is over. Managers need to have a good understanding of team members’ learning in order for work experiences to be optimized. 


No one has all the answers, and no one can be expected to have all the answers, especially during unpredictable times. The best that leaders can do is put themselves and their teams in a position to feel comfort, care, and faith in the future. Leadership won’t remain totally virtual forever, but it is something leaders need to work on for the foreseeable future. Be sure to visit our Virtual Leadership Solutions page to see how Churchill can support your needs or feel free to contact us for more information.

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