Leading at a distance, being a virtual leader, is becoming the norm in international organizations.
Yet research shows that less than 30% of virtual leaders are perceived as being effective and successful.
I am sure no leader in that position is happy with such an assessment. May be you deny such a verdict. It could well be you that belong to the 30% who are effective. However, it could also be that you are turning a blind eye on your challenge!
In this blog I want to share one essential element that contributes massively to your effectiveness in leading over distance.
This sounds very simple:
Developing and keeping trust at a high level with people reporting to you.
You may argue that trust is also necessary in a local leadership function. Yes, I agree. However, in a virtual setting a peculiar dynamic makes it absolutely vital to have high levels of trust. This dynamic is called amplification and means that some aspects in the context of leadership become highly amplified in a virtual setting.
Before laying out how you can develop trust in a virtual context I want to dive a bit deeper into the subject of trust.
We should dissect trust into two levels to better understand what you can do to develop it:
Transactional Trust and Transformative Trust
Let’s have a closer look at Transactional Trust: It embraces three elements related to the transactional interaction with your direct reports/team
1) Competence trust:
this is the recognition by your people that you have the competencies required to fulfil the role. This does not necessarily mean that you have to have specialist skills! However, you should have the ability to engage in a meaningful and productive discourse about the tasks your people have to perform.
2) Contractual trust:
this relates to your being transparent, reliable, consistent and sticking to agreements and commitments you gave in your leadership role.
3) Communication trust:
this is grounded in your being truthful and your openness as well as your ability to give constructive feedback.
goes a level deeper in the way you engage with the individuals reporting to you and how you lead them. The two core aspects are the inspiration induced and the culture or atmosphere created.
the key is how you inspire your people with regard to the relationships in the team and their abilities to make a contribution not only to individual and team tasks, but also to a higher purpose of the organization.
Your behaviour shapes the culture in your team! Empathy and compassion foster closer and deeper relationships contributing in a big way to the trust among each other.
The big question is:
How can you develop all these elements that contribute vitally to the level of trust?
I recommend that you start with an honest self assessment of your behaviour related to the elements in transactional trust. What are your watch-outs and learning fields to ensure you can uphold high standards in these element?
Contractual trust proves itself only over time. However, competence and communication trust are visible in the first instances of interaction.
I have seen leaders pretending to be technically competent in a particular area for which they have taken on a new responsibility in the hope to quickly gain respect and recognition as a leader. Their interaction revealed fairly quickly that it was more pretence than substance what they displayed. A killer for trust.
In a further step I recommend scrutinizing the culture in your direct context. Does this foster empathy and compassion? If not, critically reflect how your actions contribute to the prevalent culture and what you need to change to shift that culture. The leader, you, sets the tone and culture! Also ask yourself how much you are living as an example of depth of relationship.
In addition, how much do you inspire the people working with you and for you? How much do they feel in connection to something bigger and serving a high purpose beyond day-to-day existence?
Do you need to be perfect in all of this to grow trust? Of course not! However, having high aspirations to develop your leadership competencies in these areas and really developing yourself are essential to enhance your ability to grow trust in your virtual setting and become more effective.
Remember the amplification principle!
Even if you feel you have a long way to go, every step you make counts much more in a virtual context than in a local one.
I hope these points give you some food for thought.
You can learn more about Virtual Leadership as one module (Foundation level) of our Virtual Leadership Development 4.0 programme.
Check it out here.