The Future of Leadership, Part 4: Bringing People Together

This is part four of a series about the future of leadership.

“I have a different vision of leadership. A leader is someone who brings people together.”–  George W. Bush

In our increasingly virtual world, the future of leadership will be even more challenging than it is today. Simply put, we’re going to have to better understand how to “bring people together.”

Here are some key aspects of accomplishing this difficult leader task:

First, we must establish clarity in communication. Misunderstandings are more likely to occur in virtual settings, because two key components of communication – body language and tone – are going to be more confusing. If someone has distractions around them during a meeting, their body language could be more in response to the distractions than to the audience on the screen.

Technology may also distort a person’s tone of voice, particularly if he or she does not speak directly into the computer or microphone.

How do leaders address these challenges? One important tool that will help is establishing ground rules for virtual meetings and conversations. Here are some examples:

  1. Everyone in the meeting is connected by both video and audio.
  2. We follow an agenda, sent out in advance of the meeting.
  3. Record the meeting where possible so everyone can go back and refer to specific topics later if needed. And those who may miss the meeting can catch up on what was covered.
  4. Signal when there are questions or comments someone wants to make. Interruptions are even more disruptive in a virtual session.
  5. Respect everyone’s time. Start on schedule. End on schedule.
  6. Be in the moment and reduce or eliminate distractions.

Second, leaders will have to nurture relationships more deliberately. Regular check-ins will be essential to monitor team member wellness and engagement. We cannot assume everyone is OK or walk down the hall and start a casual conversation. Schedule time for these checks on a regular basis.

Finally, leaders in the future will have to devote more time and energy to sustaining the team and company culture. Schedule periodic informal “fun” activities to enjoy each other’s stories. Everyone has a story to tell. Leaders should set the tone for having fun by being a little self-deprecating. Tell your funny story first – especially if it has to do with something you screwed up. The more human we can be, the better communicator we’re likely to be.

Leadership in the virtual world will be highly dependent on our ability to make people feel connected, even when we are separated by time zones and distance. We’ll have to be much more focused to establish that environment in the future.

Enjoy the journey!


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