Equipping emerging leaders for success in a virtual world

Talent leaders can help emerging leaders manage the challenges of virtual leadership with three key tools.

Emerging leaders face a variety of challenges as they develop their own personal leadership style, learn how to effectively manage their teams and execute their contributions to the overall corporate strategy. These first-time managers frequently lack formal leadership training and their transition from individual contributors to leaders can be fraught: Some describe the experience as being thrown into the pool without knowing how to swim. COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges first-time managers face, particularly for those learning how to lead virtual or hybrid teams. 

How can organizations help their emerging leaders navigate the unique challenge of leading efficient, productive and engaged teams with limited or no face-to-face interaction? Research from the Center for Creative Leadership points to equipping them with three leadership tools.

Three leadership tools for virtual and hybrid management:

1. Develop a resilience mindset. In 2019, the World Health Organization recognized stress and burnout as an occupational phenomenon—before COVID-19. The pandemic has exacerbated stress, creating physical and mental health issues for many workers. These stressors have created a new set of “pandemic paradoxes” that leaders must manage as they balance the needs of the business with the needs of individual employees. Emerging leaders may over-emphasize business needs, pushing team members too hard. They may themselves unwittingly model an “always on” work style or lose the ability to create boundaries between work and home. New leaders need to understand the importance of resilience practices and model them. CCL’s CORE framework includes eight evidence-based practices to create physical, mental, emotional and social well-being. Emerging leaders can use these practices to create resilient teams that remain highly productive while burning bright, instead of burning out. 

2. Manage equitably and inclusively. Managing hybrid and/or virtual teams is different from working with teams whose members are all co-located (in the same physical space). Three factors can help emerging leaders manage virtual teams effectively: 

  • Equitable and effective technology. Not everyone has high-speed internet connection, multiple screens or a good computer camera. Corporate policies that support creating equitable home offices will help emerging leaders and their teams have the technology they need to have productive virtual conversations. 
  • Build team connections. Teams that meet frequently and use check-ins, ice-breakers, shout-outs, “a win for the week” and other ways of acknowledging the social aspect of work will form more connected relationships. After all, part of being human is acknowledging and fostering our need for connection. 
  • Make meetings matter. Have you ever been asked to join a virtual team meeting at 7 p.m. when you typically have personal commitments, such as dinner with your family? Emerging leaders need to think carefully about scheduling meetings and be mindful of time zones, especially for global teams. Following guidelines for productive meetings can also be helpful. Is a meeting really needed? Who actually needs to attend? Is there an agenda? What is the meeting purpose—and what decisions will be made? These are all important questions first-time managers should consider in making sure meetings matter and employee time is used wisely. 

3. Leverage technology to develop people anywhere at any time. COVID-19 forced the rapid adoption of technology as organizations sought to continue training and leadership development in a virtual world—and these digital learning environments have proven to be efficient. Emerging leaders can both learn themselves and foster learning for their teams. Cost-effective, scalable options require a strategic use of digital learning technology—and equitable access. When properly designed, delivered and evaluated, digital learning initiatives can change a company’s corporate culture, improve employee engagement and increase retention. However, the technology itself is not enough. The use of digital learning for emerging leaders requires six key strategies:

  • A “less is more” approach that considers experience level, time available and learning objectives
  • Support from the top establishing the credibility of e-learning
  • Encouragement of leaders to be teachers, sharing their experiences and best practices
  • Learner-centered design where learning fits into the flow of work
  • Creation of accountability partners
  • Continuous evaluation of the engagement and effectiveness of e-learning tools

Amplify your leadership capacity by equipping your emerging leaders to succeed 

Investing in emerging leaders is richly rewarding—from the benefits the organization reaps by creating engaged and motivated employees to the personal satisfaction of positively impacting the lives of people early in their careers. Hybrid and virtual teams have been a part of the workforce for a long time—but now have become the primary way of working during the global pandemic. 

Talent leaders can help emerging leaders manage the challenges of virtual leadership with three tools: modeling and encouraging resilience practices, creating equitable and inclusive virtual teams and providing access to leadership development. The more young people who are prepared to lead throughout the world, the greater chance we have of building a thriving global community committed to growth, equity and impact for all.