Leading during ‘ugly caterpillar’ times

Verizon Communications’ Michael Mason on how to lead remote workers during the Covid-19 pandemic

With apologies to people who love caterpillars, Verizon Communications Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer Michael Mason believes the pandemic is a “chrysalis opportunity” — the uglier stage as a butterfly starts its life.

As NRF PROTECT ALL ACCESS wrapped up this week, Mason talked with H Squared Research LLC Chief Research Officer Hitha Herzog about the serious impact the pandemic has had on millions of people. Mason noted that, like many companies, 95 percent of his team began working from home. He explained how he chose to focus on what they could do instead of being overwhelmed by what they couldn’t.

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Here are some highlights from their conversation:

How do you maintain relationships via things like Zoom calls and Slack?

We’ve been invited into people’s homes. With these virtual meetings, I ask people, to the extent possible, turn on your webcam. We get to see each other, and I get introduced to your home. If somebody’s kid comes up, I say, “Don’t shoo them away. Put them on your lap. Let us say hello.”

Some people have shoe or art collections. Some collect little elephants. I seize upon that. One of my people had two guitars on either side of him. He’s obviously telling me something about himself. Until that point, I didn’t know he knew what a business end of a guitar was.

Obviously, we have business to tend to, but what we’ve been allowed to do is expand our view and our understanding of our people, and that’s been invaluable to me.

How do you effectively interview, hire and onboard virtually?

With the interviews, we make sure people have their cameras on. Then we try to hook up every new employee with a mentor, and when the training period is over, we make sure they are connected to someone who keeps that dialogue going.

My strategies are evolving daily. One of the important things a boss like me can do is talk below my directors and find out how my employees are doing.

When they say everything is wonderful, I say, “No. How are you challenged by this?” Because I learn where my gaps are. I try to figure out how my people are being impacted. You can’t solve a problem you don’t know about.

You may have a rock star, and suddenly, they’re not performing at their peak. From a leadership standpoint, how do you get to the crux of what happened? How do you help them?

We’ve got all these other dynamics working. Just the dynamic of the pandemic creates all kinds of other issues. Maybe two spouses have to redesign how the household functions, and that’s adding stresses.

I always want to be a part of someone’s solution before piling onto their set of problems. State the problem up front: “I’m seeing something that is different from what you’ve offered to us historically, and I just want to be part of your solution.” Let’s talk about it — without a lot of pressure.

Watch more in the video below.

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