Leadership 2021: Veteran broadcaster Riaz Meghji offers 6 tips for leaders looking to connect with their people in the new hybrid reality

Building trust in the new hybrid reality is the No. 1 thing on leaders' minds, says the human connection expert Riaz Meghji.

Credit: Charles Zuckermann and Zenna Wong

Building trust is the No. 1 thing on leaders’ minds, says the human connection expert

You probably recognize Riaz Meghji from his stints as a host with Citytv’s Breakfast Television, MTV Canada and CTV News. Author of the recent book Every Conversation Counts: The 5 Habits of Human Connection That Build Extraordinary Relationships, Meghji now addresses and coaches organizations worldwide. He shared his thoughts on building stronger ties with team members during COVID and beyond.

1. Go first—and show them you care

“Building trust seems to be the No. 1 thing on leaders’ minds when I’m working with groups,” Meghji says. “They’re saying, How do I build trust in a hybrid reality? How do I create the psychological safety?”

For Meghji, it’s about what he calls going first as a leader: “If you’re struggling, putting it out there to provide permission for others to share and do the same, and intentionally creating space to share what’s going on.” Virtual work’s efficiency has a downside, he adds. “Everyone’s moving so fast, they’re forgetting to check in with each other.”

The group you lead must know that they’re cared for, Meghji says. “If you establish a deep level of trust with somebody, you would be able to share something that’s difficult without losing them altogether. Because they know you have their back.”

2. Be deliberate

Convinced that hybrid work arrangements are the new norm, Meghji says leaders must be intentional about them. “You have a facilitator in the office; you have a facilitator on the online medium as well so everybody is heard,” he suggests. “Because if hybrid’s here to stay, it’s going to be easy for those people not physically there to be overshadowed.”

Online platforms that let staff give anonymous feedback, such as Sweden’s Mentimeter and Rossland-based ThoughtExchange, are also important, Meghji argues. “If you already feel alienated, you’re going to be shy to speak up,” he says. “But those tools give people an empowering voice without fear of judgment.”

READ MORE: Q&A: Dave MacLeod talks about why scaling conversations is the new must-have leadership skill—and why alignment beats employee engagement

3. Work on your act

COVID has turned bosses and everyone else into broadcasters, Meghji observes in his book. With virtual meetings becoming a fixture, their production values will only improve, he predicts. “As this pandemic rolls out, some leaders are like, OK, we’ll have all the leaders in studio because we need that physicality to connect, and then everybody will watch.” Look for employees’ expectations to rise accordingly, he adds.

“It will be appreciated because no one complains about screen fatigue for Netflix,” Meghji says of these more-compelling gatherings. “If this is a permanent change, then I think we’re all going to continue to evolve with how we present production-wise.”

4. Pick up the phone

He may be a seasoned pro onscreen, but Meghji sometimes prefers an old-fashioned phone call to Zoom, which can leave people feeling self-conscious and distracted, he says. His advice? “If it’s an important team meeting or presentation, sure, put the cameras on. You want to read that digital body language. But if you’re a leader and you’re just trying to connect with people one-on-one and you can’t physically see them, don’t discount the value of a phone call.”

READ MORE: Q&A: Riaz Meghji says the pandemic has turned bosses into broadcasters

5. Earn some respect

Has the pandemic made people expect more of their leaders, too? “There’s a much greater responsibility on a leader’s shoulders now,” Meghji says. “If you’re in that role, it’s going to take a lot more energy.”

He cites Martin Moore’s bestselling book No Bullsh!t Leadership, which encourages leaders to earn respect before popularity. “Leadership isn’t about comfort; it’s about effective action,” he says. “I think leaders are going to have to stand up more, and to navigate difficult conversations in different ways.” 

When it comes time to have those discussions with team members, Meghji suggests letting go of likeability. “There’s going to be days where it’s not going to be fun, but you’re doing it for the greater good, and they’ll see it after and they’ll begin to respect you,” he says. “But the people-pleasing days of leadership, if they ever did exist in significant ways, those are gone. We’ve got to have smart decision makers now to make bold choices.”

6. Give your people a break

COVID‘s strain on the rank and file has pushed leaders to do the previously unthinkable. Just ask Nike, which recently shut its offices for a week so staff could take a mental health break. “It’s like when we first started doing virtual and it was so foreign to everybody, but now it’s an accepted medium,” Meghji says.

Before the pandemic, such efforts to promote wellness weren’t a priority for most organizations, he notes. “I truly hope they stay. Who knows, maybe we get a four-day workweek out of this when people look at the balance of productivity.”