3 Levers That Successful Virtual Leaders Pull

lev·er·age: ˈlev(ə)rij,ˈlēv(ə)rij

Globalization and recent economic challenges are pushing companies think differently about how work gets done. Instead of leaders relocating and sitting in a corporate office just for the sake of it, virtual leadership has become increasingly common. As more and more employees are working in remote locations, many business meetings now take place via phone, webcasts, video conference, or even online. Yet despite these changes in the work environment, the same high standard of outcomes is still expected. So why is it that some leaders sink in this new virtual environment while others stay on top? It’s called Leverage.

According to dictionary.com, leverage is a mechanical advantage or power gained by pulling a lever. What successful virtual leaders understand definitively is the power of influence. They hold three key levers and know how to pull them when they need to be effective.

I call these levers the 3 Cs: Communication, Conductor, and Campaign Levers.

1. Communication Lever: Great leaders find ways to communicate complex things in simple way. Because of the lack of proximity of their team, virtual leaders must convey their messages in a highly persuasive manner. Strategies for being successful at virtual positive persuasion include:

  • Provide Documentation: When leading a dispersed team, create a one-page document that includes annual performance goals and a guide for what high and low performance looks like for each objective. Make it available through a shared drive so everyone can see when it’s been updated. Having something to look at will help your employees to feel more connected to your expectations even when you are not present.
  • Reinforce Your Message: Master the art of word pictures, metaphors, and analogies to make your messages stick. For example, instead of simply saying “We want to make things more efficient,” preface your message with a word picture that says “Rather than cutting your lawn with scissors, we want to give you the right tools to be more efficient.” It is human nature for people to remember an image (scissors cutting the lawn) to reinforce what you verbally communicated.
  • Use High Quality Audio: Be mindful of how you sound when communicating over the phone. Is there an echo in the background? Does it sound like you’re in traffic? Are you mumbling? The sounds that people hear over the phone can enhance or take away from your credibility. To ensure your communication is high quality, consider completing a recorded trial run of your presentations, ask a buddy to text or instant message you during a call to let you know how you sound, or pause and directly ask your audience if they can hear you okay.

2. Conductor Lever: Great leaders are like conductors of a symphony—they make sure everyone is playing the right tune and at the right time. Virtual leaders have the added pressure of not only leading their team, but also projects, from a distance. You can pull the conductor lever by galvanizing supporters who can promote your work from afar. Consider adding governance around projects, such as organizing a “steering committee” or a “train-the-trainer” with the right people. Not only will these people feel like they have a greater stake in the projects and assignments—you’ve just created your biggest cheerleaders and positive spokespersons for your initiatives. During your train-the-trainer or steering committee meetings you should:

  • Discuss short- and medium-horizon milestones. Share details on what’s going to happen within the first six months and solicit input. By focusing primarily on the three-to-six month plan, people won’t be derailed from what they need to do right away.
  • Plant the seed for the future. Provide a high-level perspective of what they can expect in the next six months and beyond. It’s important for your stakeholders to know that you have a long-term plan. Only cover the future after you have discussed the detailed shorter-term plan so your team doesn’t dismiss you as being lofty, distant, or not serious.
  • Provide key talking points about the work. By giving your team common language to use when discussing projects, you ensure your messages can be conveyed accurately, wherever they land.

3. Campaign Lever: Think of your work products and projects as a marketing or political campaign. Just as politicians go on tours, shake hands, and kiss babies, virtual leaders must do the same by touring the locations of where the work is being done, shaking hands, and becoming intimate with local stakeholders’ pet projects and showing care for how they can support them. By pulling the campaign lever in this way, virtual leaders provide hope and ideas for how their team can enhance stakeholders’ existing processes.

About Monica…

Monica Sauls is a founder of CCLT and a corporate human resources leader with expertise in talent management, career development, change management, training, and organization development. In her additional time she writes, delivers speaking engagements, and coaches professionals—from entry-level employees to executives—to thrive from one stage of their careers to another. For more information about Monica, please visit http://monicasauls.com/