Advancing your leadership in the virtual world – Part 2 – Self leadership

Self leadership is a key competency for sustainable and impactful leadership in a virtual context

As announced in the opening blog post of this series this is the first of seven competencies I want to present, and reflect on how you can develop this further in order to strengthen your effectiveness as a virtual leader.

So, what is self leadership in this context?

This competency builds on top of the fundamental aspect of self leadership in any context! The virtual aspects are about

  • managing your availability in a 24/7 context and
  • managing your presence in the virtual context. Presence ranges from live interactive situations to those off-line circumstances where no immediate interaction can take place.

The first aspect of this competency is obviously only relevant when you are leading a team that is spread across many time zones, for example spanning from China to America. As a committed leader of your team you may always be faced with a temptation to be available to each and every team member. This, however, would mean that your day could start at four in the morning and finish beyond midnight. Obviously, that pattern would not be sustainable and cause a major imbalance between your professional and private life.


Self leadership is a key competency for virtual leaders

Some of my clients have shared the following approaches

  1. Create clear rules of engagement with your team with the regard to your availability in relation to the time zones the team is based in.
  2. Introduce an alternating pattern of weekly early and late shifts like you would see it in your production facility.
  3. Be very disciplined to not check emails beyond your normal working hours of a regular day.

Something to reflect on:

What would you need from your team to keep a healthy balance of your professional and private life?

How could you arrange responsibilities and decision-making capabilities in your team so that the team could function 24/7 without you being available?

The second aspect of this competency is relevant for any virtual leader independent of the spread of time zones.

In the old context of face-to-face meetings presence means to be physically in a meeting or location and mentally engaged. Obviously in a virtual world the physical appearance is no longer possible, hence, you cannot express your presence through your body posture, how you move in the room or where you sit etc. It lies in the nature of human beings that we need to feel a connection to our leaders in order to build trust and loyalty to their leadership. Hence, leaders need to be present in one way or another in their organisation in order for people to feel connected with them. Obviously, the virtual world works differently and leaders need to use different approaches to create presence.

I see two forms of presence, which I will explain further: off-line and on-line presence

Off-line presence

How can we be off-line but still present?

Actively engage in the use of the internal social media platform of your organisation (assuming one exists). Post news about the organisation, the projects or your activities.

If no internal social media platform is available set-up a Telegram (or similar) group for your team to share social news and non-confidential news or “gossip” (this may not work if you have team members in China, as the Chinese government restricts social media platforms).
Alternatively, set up Team Space/ Share Point or TEAMS for your virtual team to share and connect asynchronously. Post information here that is relevant for the team as well as news from you.
Accessing a wider part of the organisation, you could be a regular publisher of news in the organisation’s intranet which would also create more visibility for your virtual team.

Here are some questions to create food for thought:

  1. How often do you access these platforms, post some news about the business, about your circumstances or things happening in the organisation and the wider team?
  2. Does your level of activity give you an equivalent presence in comparison to your local organisation?
  3. How much do you share your thoughts and ideas and things happening in your life on these platforms?
  4. How well will people know you as a person based on what you share on these platforms?

Maybe you think that this is wasting your time as you have already a full agenda and more important things to do. Yet, I am sure you spend a couple of minutes a day at the coffee machine in your local context, connecting with your local team members there and just having a short chat about anything but work. Consider the interaction on these social media platforms as a virtual representation of the coffee corner or your team’s notice board. Take the same amount of time to just have a short chat or post a short note to connect with the rest of your team. Then just observe what is going to happen.

Live online presence

I would also like to share some ideas for your live interactions in your virtual context. The main driver for these is related to my personal experience with the mindset we have when joining online meetings. With what mindset do you join an online meeting? Do you dial into a meeting? Do you login to a virtual connection, sitting in front of your computer?  Or do you join a meeting (mentally) entering a meeting room? Can you already recognise a difference here? Most people believe that you cannot create the same rapport, meaning the quality of connection and interaction, in a virtual setting compared to what is possible in a face-to-face meeting.

Attitude matters

I would like to challenge this perspective and invite you to think differently with the following ideas:

When you participate in a virtual meeting imagine in your mind to join the others by entering a virtual meeting room instead of logging into the respective software on your computer.
When you have discussions, possibly challenging ones, consider the combination of video and audio in order to maximise the connection with the other person(s). This includes facial expressions in the exchange and allows to recognise emotions easier.
Don’t let yourself be distracted by things around you whilst participating in a virtual meeting, neither by emails, nor phone calls, or people entering your physical room.
If you are in charge of the meeting make sure it is as engaging as possible for those who were invited to participate!

This is now just the beginning of ideas and approaches to self-leadership. If you’re interested in an in-depth conversation please get in touch with me or share your thoughts in the comment section below.

And next week I will talk about another key competency for virtual leaders – effective communication. So watch this space …



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