Leading in the Digital Age

Communication is crucial to being an effective virtual leader in today’s globalized corporation, according to a recent survey from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL).

Communication is crucial to being an effective virtual leader in today’s globalized corporation, according to a recent survey of 247 executives from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a global nonprofit organization focused on leadership education and research.

As employees become increasingly dispersed across distance, time and culture, leaders have to cultivate skills they already have, such as communication, in new ways to be successful at managing and motivating employees from afar in this technological era.

“It’s almost a requirement for global organizations to have virtual leaders,” said Michael Kossler, lead senior enterprise associate. “While I may be very effective leading people who are all based and residing in the same office, leading in that environment is different than leading in the virtual environment. You do many of the same things in the virtual environment, but you have to do more of them with greater diligence. You have to reach out in different ways than you would if somebody was just across the room from you.”

In CCL’s survey, 70 percent of respondents said communication is central to virtual leadership, and with that comes determining how frequent correspondence should be and being able to communicate in a clear, concise manner. To ensure this happens, a communication strategy must be developed and include guidelines for when and how to communicate. In addition, a central database needs to be created for the team to document and store knowledge, and collaborative technologies should be used when possible, according to Kossler.

Aside from clear communication, virtual leaders also must have collaboration and project management skills. Additionally, executives have to be comfortable with distance and must refrain from micromanaging across oceans and countries.

“There are some leaders who are so used to being able to reach out and physically touch their employees,” Kossler said. “When they have an employee or a team member who’s in a different location, there’s a tendency to feel like, ‘I’ve got to control them and be monitoring them more than I would an employee that’s based here because I can’t see that person. And how do I know they aren’t goofing off?’”

Letting go of the reins allows leaders — and their employees — to be more productive.

“[A virtual leader has to be] like a tightrope walker and be willing to step out there and let go,” Kossler said. “Unless [you’ve] got evidence that suggests the individual or individuals are not working and are not being productive, you have to assume through normal performance reviews that they will do the work. Until you have evidence to the contrary, the worst thing a virtual leader can do is try and micromanage from afar, especially if there are different cultures involved.”

To navigate this delta of distance, leaders should stay in touch with remote employees by scheduling regular phone meetings and also send e-mail updates with corporate office news to ensure these employees stay connected.