In today’s organisational reality leaders in medium to large companies name complexity and virtuality of their work as the key challenges. Especially working in a virtual context is becoming much more dominant and the norm in international business settings. The real challenge is, however, that principles for leading over distance has not been taught to many leaders yet!
Leading over distance in today’s reality bears risks and challenges which potentially have a high negative impact on the effectiveness of a leader. Because of the omnipresent high workload, the natural reaction of the human brain driven by ‘out of sight out of mind’ often leads to breakdowns in communication and leaves almost zero informal connection to those who are supposed to be led over distance. Conversations with leaders who face these challenges reveal that the old principles of leadership which were highly effective when leading people in close proximity have limited effect when leading over distance.
So, what are the core competencies when leading over distance?
Those who have always been interested in leadership literature may remember Daniel Goleman’s article ‘leadership that gets results’, published in April 2000.
Based on a research study of Hay/McBer he described a spectrum of leadership styles which, depending on the circumstances, have different impact on the organisation and those being led. These six styles were described as directive, visionary, affiliative, participative, pacesetting and coaching. He showed clear negative and positive correlations between these styles and the effectiveness of a leader when applied to people in close proximity.
15 years down the road the world of leaders in many organisations has changed significantly and some of the principles lose their effectiveness in leadership over distance. Take the participative leadership style: its essence is high connectedness with each other. This can be extremely time-consuming and unrealistic to use in a highly dispersed organisation. The next to look at is the coaching based leadership: it requires a deep connection and is based on reflective interaction which again is relatively time-consuming. The third style, affiliative leadership, had its limitations anyway and requires even more proximity than any of the others. Based on the many conversations I had with leaders neither participative nor the coaching based leadership style have the same effectiveness in leading over distance as they had in the old days.
The only applicable one left of the six styles Goleman described is visionary leadership.
He described it as the ability to take charge and inspire others with a compelling vision. For Goleman the visionary leader states the end (in a vividly painted vision in form of a mental picture) but gives people plenty of leeway to devise their own means. Considering the challenges described above, this style of leadership has the highest effectiveness of all as it is by far not as time-consuming and has the highest impact in terms of inspiration and motivation. However, on the receiving end it only works best with people of high maturity and self sufficiency.
And, how can you develop a visionary style to increase your effectiveness when leading over distance?
Here are some key ingredients for the visionary leadership style:
- you need to be truly passionate about your area of responsibility and what you want to achieve
- you need to be able to let go of any details
- start day dreaming your ideal results of your part of the organisation and paint a mental picture to form a solid vision
- connect your dream/vision with your emotions and passion
- when sharing your vision speak in the language your people speak (jargon is the absolute killer)
- connect your vision to the emotions of your people, to their heart and their ambitions
- and keep talking about your vision.
All of these bullet points are a good starting point to develop your ability to lead with a compelling vision over a distance. You can also learn more about visionary leadership in the advanced stage of our Virtual Leadership Development Programme 4.0. Watch this space as there is more to come soon!
To close this post, I consider the following quote as appropriate:
“Good leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” ~Jack Welch
Feel free to leave a comment below or if you want to discuss any of this with me in more detail, contact me direct.