Disciplined Leadership: Becoming Better at “Distance Leadership”

This is part of a series of blogs on the theme of ‘Disciplined Leadership.’

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
Max De Pree

So many conversations I hear these days are about the challenges of virtual communication and leadership.

In the pre-pandemic days, I focused on scheduling frequent “face-to-face” interactions with my clients and my team members. I suspect that many of us were.

Since then, we have evolved into unusual combinations.Distance leadership / video conference

Some of our audience members may be in the room; others are on a screen. Several executives have reported an unexpected dynamic: they tend to focus either on those in the room or those on the screen — which leaves the other group lacking.

Since (in whole or in part) the virtual environment is likely here to stay (in some shape or form), what do we do about the “distance leadership issue”?

Here are five tools that seem to be working across industries and organizations I’ve observed:

  1. Send an agenda ahead of the meeting to everyone so they know what the topics and expected outcomes are. Stick to it. 
  2. Limit sessions to 90 minutes or less. Attention spans are shorter from a distance, distractions abound, and fatigue sets in quickly. This tendency rapidly spreads through the group, too. It’s more important than ever to value everyone’s time, whether they are in the room or on the screen.  
  3. Ask ‘power questions’ during the sessions that people can answer virtually or in-person. Power questions are those with purpose. An example is: “What is the biggest challenge you are facing this week?”hybrid in-person / remote workplaces require a better sense of 'distance leadership.'
  4. Conduct backbriefs to confirm understanding. Just because you say something, it doesn’t mean everyone heard it as you intended. Have selected members of the team report back on what they think you said. You may be in for some surprises here…! 
  5. Make commitments on what you will do as a result of the meeting as well as what your team members will be responsible for. Hold yourself accountable to set the example for them to be accountable. 

These five tools require you, as the leader, to do more preparation ahead of the session. It requires a balance between those in-person and those appearing virtually. These five tools also require more follow-up actions on everyone’s part as well.

That said, the “distance leadership issue” is really an opportunity in many respects.

There is the possibility that we can actually provide more intensity, focus, and discipline to our workplace – and ourselves. What’s holding you back? Feel free to contact me to discuss how I may be of service in implementing these strategies. 

Enjoy the journey!   


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(Based on a post originally published Sept. 2020)