Virtual Gratitude

Your team’s improved performance is a grateful moment away

Recently I was working with a client who was feeling very overwhelmed and not feeling very in control of his virtual team. I don’t need to list the reasons, I think most of us have similar variations of the same experience. He didn’t need to check the statistics to know that productivity was down.  

He told me that this is not what he imagined being a leader would be like. He felt he was experiencing challenges way beyond his pay grade and his capability. He said that the lack of motivation and energy was palpable across the screens. His levels of anxiety were rising and his sleep was becoming more and more disturbed.

The thing about talent and leadership coaching is that so much of it is about managing our mindset, our resilience and our ability to self regulate our own stresses and anxieties in order inspire and lead our teams. And like so many of us, when we go for the promotion, we go sure, I’ve got this. I’m great under pressure, motivating others and meeting my deadlines to mention just a few,

Well, that has certainly not been the case for so many of us for a while now. The pandemic has pushed us into the realms of mental health that most of us are lucky to get right for ourselves let alone a whole team of people.

Normally when I am coaching I ask questions and do very little talking, however this time I decided to share something with my client. I told him that I was grateful for my two daughters aged 13 and 15, and the beautiful music they have started to play together during the pandemic. One plays the guitar and the other the piano, after online school we often hear them singing and playing the latest song they have learned which never ceases to amaze me.  

I then invited him to share with me something he was grateful for in the last 24 hours. He spoke about having breakfast with his young son. Something he was never able to do before, as he had to leave the house early to get to work on time. He enjoyed their conversations and being able to spend more time with him. Indeed he went on to tell me more things he was grateful for. Afterwards, I asked him to tell me how he felt, what impact these positive thoughts and emotions had on him. He said do you know what “I feel calmer, more upbeat and less anxious.”  

According to scientists like Dr Barbara Fredrickson, people who cultivate daily gratitude practices experience better physical and mental health. What these practices are is up to you. Some of the suggestions include things like writing down at the end of the day 3 things you are grateful for and why. Another could be ‘silver linings’ looking for the positive in a negative situation around the dinner table with your kids. Getting out into nature or meditation, whatever you decide is right for you. What’s important is that it is a regular practice.

Getting back to my client, he decided to try a 1 minute per person gratitude exercise with his team. But first, he wanted to put it in context for them so we selected a short video to share from Dr Fredrickson on the benefits of positive emotions. After which he invited his team members to share something that they were grateful for with the rest of the team on their weekly call.

He said that at first it was a bit strange but the work they did afterwards together was the best they had done for a long time. He said it was as if someone had flicked a switch and despite all the problems each one was experiencing both on an individual level and as a team, they felt this positive ‘can do’ attitude transmit across the net, that really had a productive impact for him and them.

For me, leadership is getting it right one little step at a time, particularly at the beginning. Be creative with your meetings regardless of how they are conducted. Lean into the hard stuff and use it to improve your skills and that of your teams. Get the support of a coach or mentor.

The silver lining of the pandemic is that as a leader instead of focusing on the negative, you can use these tough moments to grow and develop leadership skills that will see you and your team succeed together.