Don’t Get Caught in the Slow Lane: Top New Leadership Capabilities and Best Practices for Developing Your Leaders in a Virtual Environment

Cheryl Breukelman

Principal at Epiphany Coaches
Woman leading meeting in conference room

Learning Objectives

In this presentation, you will gain practical tips and insights on how to develop your leaders virtually and what new key leadership capabilities to evolve that are newly relevant now and for the future of work. We will explore: top 5 leading leadership capabilities now and for the future of work; client stories and best practices for leading virtually; simple and easy ways to deliver great virtual learning.

Key Takeaways:

  • Discover the top 5 new leadership capabilities emerging from the virtual workplace

  • Learn how to effectively develop your leaders virtually

  • Gain best practices for leading in a virtual environment

"Leaders need to get very good at creating strong connections for their people, so they build that trust, that safety, so that people feel the stability in order to be productive and get great results."

Cheryl Breukelman

Principal at Epiphany Coaches


Welcome. I’m Cheryl Breukelman, Leader of Epiphany Coaches. Thank you so much for joining us for this presentation today. We typically partner with HR leaders like yourselves, who are the champions and the caretakers of their people. You’re the ones who were responsible for supporting and developing your leaders.

I think, as we all know, this past year has been an exceptional year of change and challenge as we all try to figure out how to live and how to lead in this virtual world. So I’m very excited to be able to share with you today some of the top new leadership capabilities that we’re seeing on the forefront, as well as some best practices for developing and supporting your leaders in a virtual environment.

First, I’d like to tell you a little bit about Epiphany Coaches, so that you have a background on us. Epiphany Coaches is a leadership coaching company. That means we spend our time on developing leaders and teams. We’ve been around for 20 years. We have 45 coaches around the world. We’ve been coating in 70 countries. We certainly love what we do. I tell you this all because I want you to feel confident about the depth and the breadth of the work that we’re doing in the world.

I also want to spend a little bit of time to talk to you about how we do things, because that’s really important. I think, overall, we’re always aiming to be a trusted and strategic partner in the work that we do. Certainly, our job is to delight you and make your life easier and better as the HR leader. We do that by bringing world class class service to you. As you can see, we’ve had really the luxury and opportunity of working with some great local brands, and some world class brands. Typically, we have very strong results in the coaching work that we do. In the work we do to support leaders to lead virtually, we’re very proud of that. I can’t say enough about how much we value the partnerships that we have with various leaders and HR leaders around the world. I hope this gives you a little bit of a picture of the caring and the commitment that we do bring to our work.

Now, what I’d love to do is to turn and talk to you now about the experiences and the insights that we’ve had around leading virtually in the work that we have done with leaders this year. Over the last year, leaders have had so many issues to handle with their people. I’m going to talk specifically around the people side, leading their teams and leading their employees, because that’s been such a big and important focus this year.

When COVID first hit, and leaders were scrambling to make sense of it all, and keep their teams and people stable. We were first dealing with creating structure. How do we help stabilize people in their work environments at home, but very quickly, it moved towards how do we create safety for people. Certainly, we know that psychological safety is the number one predictor of team success. So leaders had to get very good at how to create that. The approaches to bring, the mindset to have because people had a lot of fear. Fears about their health, their families, their jobs, their finances, and the world around them. It was a lot for them to handle. So we work with leaders to help them create that safety and create those forums and have those conversations.

Also, we dealt a lot with creating possibility, and we still do. Leaders need to step up and show the confidence and the optimism to their teams and to their people to help them to be able to be stable and to be productive to be able to generate those results. The way that we worked with people were a number of ways. We started building a leading virtual guides for leaders right away, so they have resources they could go to. I would strongly recommend that.

What we also did is create one on one coaching program so that we could address the very specific issues each leader had around leading virtually, and that again, was very successful. We also set up what we call the huddles or group sessions 30 minutes to one hour long depending on the client. These workspaces that leaders could come together to talk about the challenges they were having, to get real, to change ideas, and leave with solutions that they could go back to with their teams.

In some cases, we even did pro bono work and others. We subsidize these programs so that we could get leaders get the levers, the tools, and the forums to have these kinds of conversations with each other. We’re really excited to say that we were able to support 600 leaders to date through these kinds of programs this year.

One of the very particular programs that we worked on was the Leading Virtually Program at Microsoft, we worked with the women at Microsoft community in Latin America. What we did is we set up a program where they had three group sessions that hundreds of leaders attended, both men and women, so we could support them personally with what they were going through as leaders, and also, have that forum for discussion, for reflection, sharing stories together, and also best practices of what they were doing, so that they could bring it back to their own people and their own teams, as well as just get a release and an experience of being supported themselves.

We were certainly delighted by the feedback we got from our Program Sponsor Juliana at Microsoft, that we were able to create an effective approach, engage that community of leaders across Latin America and South America, and not only that, instigate some great conversations and actions that they could take away. Coupled with that, we got some great feedback from the leaders that actually participated with us, as well in the one on one coaching program. So getting a 4.95 star rating at a 5, consistent with the kinds of results that we love to see in all our programs. It felt great. I think what’s most important to call out here is that these kinds of sessions are valuable, they’re important for leaders, and they really work.

As we’ve been moving through the year, we’re finding now that leaders are also experiencing some new challenges that we’re addressing. There’s greater issues for themselves and for their teams around isolation, even some mental health issues coming up. So important for them to stay strong, supported, and really help them cope with feeling depleted. Leaders are increasingly finding it difficult to bring the same kind of energy. We realize that as much as it may feel like fatigue, actually, they need outlets to restore them, ways to get juice again, whether that’s bringing new inputs, like new podcasts, new speakers, new thinkers, new resources, or books, or ideas to them, but very important and new on the scene with leaders and their teams.

Certainly what goes along with it is also continued need for them to lead the business and get those results. So much transformation. When I say that, digital transformation yes, but also transforming the way that they work together, approaches they bring to the business, maybe even new service and product offerings in the way that they manage them. In this environment that is still continually so volatile, uncertain, and complex. It’s a lot for them to manage. So you can imagine that spending time with your leaders to skill them on the mindset and the capabilities of being able to connect, being very human, and social. Having lots of empathy right now, it’s so critical. Helping them find outlets and ways to restore their energy and have a space to talk about it, and what it means be able to reinforce it with their own people.

Another very important topic. Certainly, in the virtual world, people that have new employees, or in terms of having opportunities for career development and career progression, and even networking for communities is something for leaders to be very mindful of. You need unique forums to be able to make those new employees feel supported, and to really create opportunities for people to develop their careers. Random opportunities don’t happen and we don’t have the same visibility as we do to our broad community when we’re back at work.

Lastly, one of the big things we focused on that has been so helpful to leaders in leading virtually is for them to have agility and flexibility. I mean, these are times where we need to have trial and error happening. Things are changing quickly. We need to take new risks as leaders. We have to see around corners that we can’t really see around. So, make decisions without all the same information. It does require leaders to embrace rules, be more courageous, find new approaches to be flexible, and insert them into the day to day that they lead—all important things that we’re working with leaders on and that we know is so important to address for them.

We do that through one on one programs or the kind of group programs, whether it’s workshops, or larger events that we can support leaders. Our coaching works for leaders right now, because we’re able to dive into the very specific topics that they need support on, and it’s a tall order right now. But at the same time, it’s more about giving them a place to come for reflection to stop, pause, and think about things. Be planful at clarity and get perspective on things, so that they can go back and introduce those things back to their teams and their people to be successful.

Over the last year, we’ve seen leadership evolve. There are new capabilities in leadership that are more important. I’ve spoken about connection, it’s just so key. Leaders need to get very good at creating strong connections for their people, so they build that trust, that safety, so that people feel the stability in order to be productive and get great results.

Also, vulnerability. Now is the time for leaders to be modeling openness, and being real with their people, and acknowledging what’s really happening, so they can address the core issues with their people. And again, help them feel safe, bring in that stability for them. This kind of quality is not a weakness at all, it’s a strength. It makes people loyal, pulls people in so that you can both solutions together, and really drive the kinds of results that you need.

Adaptability. I talked earlier about the importance of flexibility and agility. It’s all wrapped up in being an adaptable leader. As we do need to move so quickly, take risks, and make adjustments all the time. Leaders need new and more checks and balances in their business, shorter planning cycles, and to be able to dig into what’s happening so that they can make tweaks along the way to be successful. Super important.

Also, self management and self care. I spoke about the isolation, the lack of energy, the depletion. So important that we have our mental health as leaders in this long game, so that we can be available to our people. We need to manage ourselves. Be personally effective, find the right things for us, take very good care of ourselves, and promote that with our people.

Lastly, complexity. It’s easy to say this is a complex world. But what’s important to recognize is that the world we’re living in is it’s not so much technocratic and technical solutions and simple problems that we need to address. You think about COVID. If you think about social issues that we’re dealing with, and the inclusion we want inside our organizations, even look at climate change. You look at transforming businesses, these are complex issues, and complex issues need to be dealt with in a different way. It’s a different toolset. It’s a different mindset and approach. So, we need the skill or leaders to be able to deal with that level of complexity.

These are the kinds of things that we’re seeing are so important in the work that we’re doing out in the world today. So we’re finding that we’re leaning heavily on our own relationship intelligence model and our leadership report that we’re able to produce for leaders, because it helps them learn and hone those relationship skills that they need to build that trust, build the safety, connection, and vulnerability that they need as leaders today to be effective with their people.

We’re also integrating a lot of Leadership Circle 360 Assessment. This is an amazing tool that allows leaders to not only see how they can develop on the task side to achieve results, but also the relationship competencies that are required to be successful in today’s world. Certainly, we bring that back into the one on one coaching to support them that’s so effective, or large forums where leaders can come together as a group and learn together.

What’s really important is that we can do a reat job of onboarding, give them the right materials, and set them up for some really supportive coaching. Give them a great coach of their choice, so they feel super connected with that coach. Integrate you as the HR leader and their managers so that there’s a great feedback and support loop and lots of transparency about what’s going on in the coaching program.

Certainly, doing great reporting, so that you can know what are the trends. How is the coaching, actually supporting your people overall, and where it’s having the biggest impact? These are all important things that we’re able to bring to the table and support leaders with these new capabilities as they’re learning and trying so very hard at being successful leaders in this virtual world.

I think that it’s been a challenging time. It’s certainly been an incredible journey for leaders. They’ve done an amazing job of moving their organizations forward, adopting new technology, transforming their businesses, and really, truly caring about their people, and doing their very, very best. I hope that in sharing our experiences and what we’ve been able to do to support leaders, you can walk away with at least one insight that you can take back to your people.

Certainly, if you’re in a place now where you are looking to support your leaders as they’re leading virtually through coaching to develop your leaders, we would love to talk to you so please reach out and connect. We’d love to have that conversation. Thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it. Have a wonderful day.

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