Advancing your leadership in the virtual world – Part 6 – Direction and Meaning

Strong intrinsic motivation is essential to virtual teams

Direction and meaning are essential triggers, and a key competency for effective virtual leaders.

With this post I am continuing the series as announced in the opening blog post 5 weeks ago:  I will present the fifth competency and reflect on how you can develop this further also in order to strengthen your effectiveness as a virtual leader.

The other competencies, should you have missed them, were self-leadership, effective communication and productive relationships and intercultural sensitivity.

Let me start again with describing this competency first.

What do I mean by Direction and Meaning?

Motivation and inspiration are essential drivers for any human being to engage actively in tasks or challenges. Hence, fostering motivation and inspiring people is a fundamental leadership competency. However, members of virtual teams are facing the challenge of being distracted by local requests and stakeholders. As a consequence the virtual team itself will suffer if its members are not motivated and inspired to contribute to its goals. The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi(**) summarises the insights from his research into flow in the following way: “If a leader demonstrates that his purpose is noble and transcendent, that the work will enable organisational members to connect with something larger and more permanent than their material existence, people will give the best of themselves to the enterprise”. To me that means, the most powerful force to motivate people is to give them direction and meaning in the way Mihaly describes it. The stronger you are in this, the more you can bind your virtual team members to the course of your endeavour.


Direction and meaning are essential triggers, and a key competency for effective virtual leaders


How to give direction and meaning?

I want to summarise two aspects under this heading, providing a vision (direction) and a higher purpose (meaning) for the team and share some ideas how to use them most effectively:

Start developing a very compelling vision for what you see the team could achieve through highly effective collaboration. Share and refine this vision as often as possible to activate your dispersed members. In one of my previous blogs I have provided more ideas about how to create compelling visions. You can read more about it here.
Explore and clearly express how the team contributes to the higher purpose of the organisation or even create a higher purpose for the team itself. This is useful as long as it is not becoming too artificial. My colleague Bert Krijnen has summarised in a blog a very good book, ‘The Why Café’ by John Strelecky, about how to explore purpose. Find his blog here.

The best quote I can think of describing what it really means is the following by Antoine De Saint-Exupery: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Although a fairly complex theme I hope this gives you enough food for thought to start developing this competency further. If you are interested in an in-depth conversation feel free to get in touch with me or share your thoughts in the comment section of this post below.


(**) Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is noted for his work on the study of happiness and creativity, but is best known as the architect of the notion of flow and for his years of research and writing on the topic. He is the author of many books and over 120 articles or book chapters.



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