Distance Leadership – Does it take a different set of skills and techniques from leading a team that sits down the hall?


This week I was invited by www.facesso.se to join an interesting breakfast meeting.
Does it take a different set of skills and techniques from leading a team that sits down the hall? The general outcome was that with smart technology, good listening skills and bringing in the fun – you can make long distance relationships work! Peter Hägglund from www.novaagentum.com  was facilitating on the topic Virtual leadership / Long Distance Leadership.

This morning got me started to reflect on next generation leadership – in combination with social media. “Social media leadership” – does that exist? The only thing we know is that to be successful as leaders and including the social media landscape, we will need to demonstrate humility, a willingness to learn and a desire to keep our organizations and ourselves competent as the world changes.

Linda Fisher Thornton has published a learning tool that clarifies what it means to lead in a complex world.

In leading social media engagement, we first have to change and embrace social media, then help others see the value and make the change, then lead the cause within the organization in ways that benefit multiple stakeholders. This challenge is multi-level and begins with making changes to our perception of our personal and organizational boundaries that seem catastrophic to some leaders.

While we may have thought in the past that we could “lead from a distance,” the social media world is more like being in a virtual coffee shop with everyone who’s ever heard of your brand, your (happy and unhappy) customers, your employees, your competitors, your suppliers, your biggest fans, and the rest of the global community across geographic and industry boundaries. The good news is that people will hear about your business a lot faster. To have that awareness lead to business growth though, they will need to believe that you are concerned, responsible and responsive to their needs.

This collection of resources will help you and your teams:

  • see the value of joining the social media information wave
  • lead individuals and groups through engagement with social media, and
  • lead your organizations through successful integration of social media into daily business.

There are many practical tips of becoming Successful in Long Distance Leadership. Patti Johnson has published a few tips for increasing the connection and engagement with a virtual team:

Replace hallway conversation: On virtual teams, you don’t have time for the informal chat at the coffee bar or to pop into someone’s cubicle for a quick question. This is important for a fast work question, but also to ask about the new baby or how Dad is recovering from the surgery. These informal help us feel part of a team. Find ways for fast check-ins through texting or Skype – or a quick phone call just to ask how things are going. Five minutes is fine – but shows you are interested and care. Plus, if they have any issues they will most likely raise them.

Rely on structure as your safety net: Because the informal chats are harder, have standing times for one to one calls and team chats. Plus, build in some time for some personal chatter that helps the team feel connected.This structure helps your team feel there is a rhythm to connecting with the bigger team and they can count on it.

Use creative ways to connect: One challenge for virtual teams is feeling isolated from the center or if working alone, from the rest of the team. This is magnified if workers work from a home office. I have seen leaders have a standing virtual lunch date or ask team members to send in photos to share on team calls. Get creative. These small things help team members feel connected and important as an individual.

Make technology your friend: Technology can make a huge difference for virtual teams. Use Join.me as a way to share materials on a call if you don’t have a standard tool already in place. Use Shutterfly to create folders for team members to share a few pictures. Yammer  is a great way to create your own internal social media site that can only be accessed by your team. Our team encourages everyone to be on Skype for instant messaging so that it’s easier to have more spontaneous conversation on work or just to ask how things are going. And, of course, use Skype for a video call so you can see each other face to face. It makes a huge difference (if you aren’t in your pajamas).

Listen better: As a virtual  leader, you have to listen for the subtle cues for confusion,      disagreement, or conflict. When you can’t see faces or the in person interactions, your listening skills need to be more advanced. Was there silence after you explained the new process? Is the new team member asking questions that her onboarding contact should have addressed? Why is one team member extra quiet? If you listen more, you will know when you need to get more personally involved.


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