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Week One: Hour 1

How people show their needs differently

By Paul

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What makes leading and managing people in these times particularly complex is that we are all affected differently.

You’ll have experienced some colleagues behaving as they always do, even if you don’t get to see as much of them as you might if you were working in the same office.  

Others, on the other hand, may have taken you by surprise. Some are proving to be more resilient than you expected, while others are experiencing challenges in working from home. Regardless of where and how we work, our roles as leaders is to enable people to be their best, and part of this will always mean working with a wide range of personalities and working preferences. 

Regardless of where and how we work, our roles as leaders is to enable people to be their best

At a time of involuntary confinement, many of us will be experiencing a mix of emotions which shift constantly. And all of us are likely to feel – at some point – fearful, stressed, tired and frustrated.  

There’s so much coming at us all the time, it’s no wonder we sometimes get confused.   

We know already how varied individuals’ response to change can be. Much of our learning comes from research on what can seem like irrational human responses to planned, supposedly rational change.  

When the change is as sudden and erratic as what we’re going through now, the consequences on people’s behaviour are magnified significantly. 

Our desire to be there for people 

You won’t be alone if you’ve spent a huge proportion of your time responding to messages from colleagues asking for your guidance. The feeling of being ‘always on’, reported for a long time as a condition of working in universities, has become exaggerated for many managers since working from home became almost universal.  

Rather than feeling like you’re reacting all the time to colleagues’ demands, if you can plan your interactions carefully you should be able to work with individuals’ personal preferences and prioritise giving attention to those most in need. 

Your activity

Match the behaviours you observe in online discussions in the left-hand column with your potential responses on the right. 

Then see the commentary below for some suggestions which will help you to plan for positive outcomes. 

How someone acts and speaks online 
A. Seems distracted by other devices 
B. Takes up more than fair share of airtime 
C. Sets up side conversations
in text box 
D. Finds it difficult to express emotions 
E. Pastes in set pieces 

F. Contributes little, even when prompted 
G. Regularly arrives late 

Action you can take 
1. Arrange an individual discussion to explore how someone is coping 
2. Agree collaboratively on guidelines for online meetings with everyone in your team 
3. Model written contributions which use constructive open questions.
4. Challenge colleagues to keep their comments relevant and succinct 
5. Invite individuals to lead on particular parts of the agenda or conversation 
6. Make it clear that introductions will only occur in the first 5 minutes 
7. Be specific and directive if need be, bringing in people democratically 

You can check at the bottom of this page for the most likely pairings, though these are not intended as hard-and-fast rules.  

Each encounter you have online with colleagues is an opportunity for you to reinforce particular behaviours which you’d like to see others adopting. You can do this by thinking consciously about how you speak and act. As you plan to take into account different individuals and their own preferences, make a note of the people you would like to demonstrate new levels of engagement. Think about what is most likely to be successful for each person. 

Write down 3 names of colleagues whose needs you will prioritise during the course of the next two weeksand the actions you will take to support them. 

At the end of the two weeks, reflect on any differences you’ve noticed, for yourself and in them. 

Suggested pairing responses: A2, B7, C3, D1, E4, F5, G6


A selection to read, watch or listen to, to help find a new perspective.

Dr Paul Gentle

Paul is the Academic Director at Invisible Grail. A leadership expert, Paul has dedicated the last twelve years to creating and delivering leadership development programmes in higher education.