Leading From a Distance: Becoming Better at “Distance 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

It seems like every conversation I hear these days is about the challenges of virtual communication and leadership.

In the pre-pandemic days, I focused on scheduling “face-to-face” interactions with my clients and my team members. I suspect that many of us were. Then, a little over six months ago, those opportunities suddenly disappeared.

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

Some of our audience members may be in the room; others are on a screen. Several executives have reported another new 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 (at least for the time being), 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 by voice or chat. Power questions are those with purpose. An example is: “What is the biggest challenge you are facing this week?”
  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. They also require more follow-up actions on everyone’s part as well.

The “distance leadership issue” is really an opportunity in many respects. Now we can 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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[image source: pixabay.com]