Updated: Apr 22, 2020
How to Be an Awesome Virtual Leader
Effective leadership is not impossible in a virtual work world, but it definitely requires thoughtful planning. Being gracious with your time and focusing on others’ needs are two hallmarks of great leaders. Here are some communication ideas on how to be an awesome, gracious virtual leader.
Focus on others
Effective virtual leaders understand their sphere of influence and invest time to make a difference in others’ lives. Your sphere of influence includes more than your direct reports. You also influence your peers and coworkers, your manager and even former coworkers. Make a list of those you influence. Identify their specific needs and challenges. Then, come up with one or two things you can do to make a difference in each individual’s life. Send a note, forward an article, send an e-card, make a quick check-in phone call, share an idea…there are many ways to let someone know you’re thinking of them.
Ask questions…and listen
I am on Bob Tiede’s email list and receive valuable insights about leading with questions. (You can sign up here.)
One technique I picked up from Bob is to have a set of questions to engage those in your sphere of influence. Here are a few examples:
What's going well? What's not? Where are you stuck? What needs to change?
What can I do to help you be more effective? What can I do to make your job easier?
After asking questions, listen. Ask follow up questions. Listen to understand what is being said. If appropriate, take notes. Be sure you catch the emotional content. This reveals what is really important. Then paraphrase what you heard. This lets the other person know you were listening, and allows them to add more information if needed. Use pauses. Instead of responding as soon as the question is answered, wait. The pause encourages your communication partner to reflect and provide additional information. It truly is amazing what we can learn when we’re not talking!
In a virtual work environment, asking questions and listening is essential.
Reflect and plan
Great leaders spend a lot of time thinking. They reflect on what they know and make plans to communicate with intentionality. Make it a habit to pick a time of day to reflect on your team and tasks. Pick a time that you know is best for you. Then, remove distractions and systematically reflect on each of the individuals on your team and in your sphere of influence. What can you provide that will help each one the most? What is needed immediately? In the short term? Down the road? Make notes and create a plan to follow up.
In a virtual work environment, it is easy to feel isolated. Have a plan to be inclusive; to stay connected to your team and to create connections within your team. One way confident leaders do this is by demonstrating intellectual curiosity: they understand the value of ideas. They have the courage to admit they simply cannot know everything necessary for success. Therefore, they actively seek opinions and ideas that differ from their own.
Ask for input, opinions and ideas. Most of us appreciate the opportunity to provide our thoughts and appreciate being asked. Seeking input from remote workers also helps them to feel valued, visible and connected. Let people know that their advice matters.
One of the things identified as being of highest importance at work is to be in the know. Your virtual teammates want to know what is going on. By keeping them in the loop, you make them feel important; valued. Be intentional about including your virtual team in sharing information. And beyond simply forwarding information, take the time to discuss anything that has a significant impact on work. People want to be heard and understood. Give them that opportunity.
Your time and talents are what people value most. Be generous about sharing these. Invest your resources to let others know you genuinely care about them and are sincerely interested in helping them grow professionally.
Gracious leadership tip: Say THANK YOU often. And when saying thank you, be specific about what someone did for which you are thankful.
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