Being An Inspirational Leader Virtually Can Be Done – If You Put A Plan In Place First.
By Steve Schumacher
So much of true leadership is built around interpersonal relationships. Spending time with employees, getting to know them as people, asking questions, and building trust are all ingredients to solid leadership. Of course, these days, it is difficult to build that foundation in person because of social distancing and many employees working from home.
In-person meetings have pretty much been eliminated and have been replaced by web-based meetings using various tools like Zoom. Many leaders I have met are very charismatic in person and radiate leadership simply by standing up and looking people in the eyes. Physical presence is not a tool that a leader can put into play when you are like everyone else in a web meeting – a box on a computer screen.
Hopefully, you have had enough of a leader/follower relationship with your employees prior to the change in working environments. If you have, you can leverage that trust you have built in this new normal working environment. If your introduction to leading a group of people is on the computer, you are facing the challenge of leading people without the benefit of having built trust with them in person.
Spend time in person as much as possible. The most effective leaders have developed trust with their employees. Real trust can only be built in person. It is not built through email, text or video pronouncements. When people trust their leaders, motivation and commitment are more likely to be in place. If, and when, you are able to get interpersonal time with employees, spend more time listening than talking. Learn about your employees’ personal lives and challenges they are currently having. Stephen Covey coined a phrase that is perfect at this time – seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Make sure electronics are in order. Prior to starting a web-based meeting, make sure you are adept at navigating the tools associated with the platform you have chosen. Rehearse and practice with an IT person to make sure you can run an online meeting without glitches. Murphy’s Law tends to kick in at these kinds of times. The model you set with the electronics will speak volumes to the attendees about how they run meetings of their own. If haphazard electronics is okay with you, it will be okay with them.
Some old rules apply. Remember, you are holding a meeting because you need to have your employees together as a group to accomplish something. The format is just different. Send out an agenda in advance, start on time/end on time, handle conflict well, use a parking lot for off-topic issues, seek participation, and keep discussion on track and moving along. If it is going to be a long meeting, allow breaks. For people that are working from home, be understanding of unexpected interruptions.
Your webcam background should be appropriate. Pick a location for your computer that will reflect you and your surroundings in a manner that does not draw attention away from you, the leader. Since this is a business meeting, your surroundings should be more professional and less personal. Be careful if you are using your office as your location. In person, employees see the entire office and are not focused on any one part of it. When you are on webcam, one specific part of your office is on stage. Make it the best one possible.
Remind everyone of mission, vision and values. If done right, an organization’s mission, vision, and values will be the glue that connects all employees. If, from your perspective, they need to be revisited during a time of crisis then do so. Your role, as leader, is to remind everyone of those items, the reason they were developed, and the benefit to everyone of embracing them. If most people see them as hollow and meaningless, then your reputation as the leader will be perceived the same way. Perhaps dedicate a web meeting solely to a discussion about the mission, vision and values.
Seek feedback. Just like your employees, leaders need feedback on their performance also. Consider having an objective third party sit in on the meeting with the sole objective of taking notes on how you did as a leader. Meet with the person beforehand and tell the observer what you want feedback on.
The role of web-based video meetings will most likely be a constant in our organizations for a long time to come. Your role as a leader is the same as it has always been. The delivery of that role has changed though. Adapt to the new normal and you will succeed.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].