From Bland and Boring to Captivating and Compelling: What Virtual Leaders Must Know
Even the most experienced team leaders can make us weep with boredom. They torture us
with their monotone narrations of 10-Mb slide decks. They regale us with
irrelevant minutiae, while sidestepping the really important stuff.
Their meetings are more like monologues, with everyone else listening
from the sidelines. And for the most part, they probably imagine they're
pretty interesting people!
When we experience boring leaders face-to-face, we have to at least pretend to be somewhat interested. We might take notes (even if it's a shopping
list!), throwing in a few occasional nods so we won't be called on to
replay key points. Copious amounts of caffeine help to some degree, as
do the many bio breaks we'll inevitably need as a result. And who hasn't
had a colleague place an "emergency" phone call in extreme cases of
Tuning out boring virtual leaders is far easier. Once you put yourself on mute, there's no end to
the more important things you can do, like responding to emails,
writing up your latest status report, or finding the best price on that
new digital camera you've been pining for. (If you work from home, this
"important" work can extend to laundry, dinner prep, weight-lifting and
more.) As long as you're within earshot of the conversation, your team
leader may assume you're present while in fact you are completely absent.
So, how can boring
virtual leaders learn to become more captivating? (And no, it is not an
inherent skill that some are just born with!) In this article, I take a
look at some steps even the blandest leader can take to evolve into an
engaging, stimulating and captivating leader, from near or far.
- Discover the leadership qualities and attributes your team members find attractive. To play to the crowd, you need to figure out what the crowd clamors
for. Members of a sales and marketing team might particularly value
charisma and energy, while product engineers might regard a mastery over
technical details as more captivating. Cultural differences also can
play a role. Some may value your ability to begin and end meetings on
time and keep conversations focused, while others look for a leader
who's an exceptional relationship-builder. Pay attention to what seems
to spur spirited conversation, and probe further in 1:1 meetings. Survey
instruments can also help shed light on preferences, styles and
behavioral tendencies pretty quickly, especially when you have few
opportunities for face-to-face interaction.
- Demonstrate a genuine interest in your people. Find out what makes your team members tick, both professionally and
personally, and use this knowledge to help make meaningful connections.
Examples: When Maria mentions that she wants to sharpen her marketing
skills, suggest that she take on project launch responsibilities. Hans
has indicated that he likes working with younger people, so ask him to
help mentor new team members. Margaret has privately expressed guilt
about not visiting her aging parents often enough. Ask her how they're
doing every so often, and send Margaret pertinent articles that she
might find helpful. When you show interest in others, they'll suddenly
see you as a lot more interesting.
- Pursue your own growth. Let's face it: If you're bored with yourself, chances are, you bore
others. Constantly look for ways to tune up your mind and stretch
yourself, professionally and personally. Want to be a better
communicator? Join a writing group or try a class on storytelling or
business writing. Feel left behind when it comes to the latest virtual
collaboration tools? Ask a tech-savvy colleague (or practically any kid
over the age of nine) to show you the ropes. Interested in learning more
about China? Take beginner's Mandarin, steep yourself in the culture by
reading books and seeing films, and get some informal cultural coaching
from colleagues. And then, buy a nonrefundable ticket to Beijing!
People who show they're open to learning and growing are way more fun
than people who act like they already know it all.
- Shake up your meetings. Inject some excitement into your virtual meetings by keeping people on
their toes. Instead of having person after person rehashing the status
of their deliverables, use meeting time for more interesting
interactions, and post status reports in a shared portal. Try asking
provocative questions to find new ways to reel people into the
conversation. Examples: What's the smartest thing you've done so far
this week? Name one step you've taken to minimize your project's biggest
risk. What's one thing you can always count on to get yourself
re-energized during these stressful times? Smart leaders have a good
sense for knowing when to toss aside the rulebook in favor of sparking
the kind of conversations teams need to stay energized, focused and
- Give generously. People like to be
around others who have a knack for coaxing creative ideas and offering
fresh insights into vexing problems. Be the kind of leader who comes to
conversations prepared to add value that helps to foster confidence,
competence, and greater self-sufficiency. For example, you might relay a
snippet of a conversation you've had with a subject matter expert who
was able to shed light on a recurring issue your team is facing. Or you
can post pointers to a few recent articles you found about a current hot
topic. You want to provide enough valuable information so that people
seek you out, but not so much that people start to rely on you instead
of themselves for inventiveness and ingenuity.
- Humble yourself. Most people find modesty and humility refreshing and increasingly rare
in a world of rabid self-promotion. Shine the light on others'
achievements instead of your own, and err on the side of doling out
credit at every opportunity. Include a "kudos" section in team meetings,
where you lead the way in citing people for special achievements,
completed milestones, or other notable accomplishments. (Examples: I
want to thank Maya for being the first one to dial into every team call
this month. Let's hear it for Kim, who delivered the content for our new
sales guide a week early. I want to recognize Henry for pitching in for
Sue this week while she toured colleges with her son.) Not only does
this show that you're noticing what team members have achieved, but
you're also paving the way for others to acknowledge their peers'
contributions as well.
- Maintain stamina and energy. Leaders who attract
others know how to exude enthusiasm and energy, whether they're
facilitating a team meeting, writing an electronic message, making a
presentation, or even leaving a voicemail. (And even when people can't
see you, people can hear when you're tired and lack a certain spark.) To
keep energy levels high, make sure to ingest some healthy food (think
lean protein!) and drink plenty of water. Right before a team meeting,
do something to get your blood flowing, oxygen pumping and mind relaxed,
even if it's just a brisk 10-minute walk. Make sure to sit up
straight so you can better project your voice, and dial in early so you
can warmly greet each person with a personal comment and a smile.
No one actively aspires to be boring. And yet regrettably, few leaders actively attempt to be interesting. Virtual leaders have to try harder than other managers, given how easy
it is for team members to slip away, unnoticed, in a virtual world. Try
keeping a journal each week about what's worked and what hasn't, and
adjust accordingly. And even then, don't rest on your laurels too long:
Change it up often to stay interesting.
Read more IT Performance Improvement
Certain names and logos on this page and others may constitute trademarks, servicemarks, or tradenames of
Taylor & Francis LLC. Copyright © 20082012 Taylor & Francis LLC. All rights reserved.