Doing the Distance Leadership

A good dozen of lucky participants enjoyed the thinking of Grundfos, SKAT and my esteemed colleague Rikke Lindekilde on the topic of Distance Leadership, often referred to as “virtual leadership”; which I won’t. The leadership is real, it must be; it just happens in a situation where the engaged parties are separated by geography, time, technology and often culture.

Rikke Lindekilde discussing Distance Leadership
Rikke Lindekilde discussing Distance Leadership


It was an inspiring conversation with some important take aways. Besides a few surprising best practice one-liners like “give your team a travel day at home“, “plan the spontaneous coffee breaks” and “trust in change may need structure“, I suggest the following six highlights to be worth a thought:

  • Distance Leadership is nothing new, the Romans did it. It just happens for more, faster and with greater potential. As much a revolution as urbanization and globalization, it is now almost a post-geographical world, where a surprising number of jobs can be done almost anywhere for anybody.
  • Distance Leadership makes good conventional leadership better and turns bad to worse. Distance Leadership amplifies both the good and the bad, greatly. As the old adage: “You’re only a leader, if you are being followed” — going virtual in terms of presence makes it all the more important to be proactively observant; the small stuff you see as you move physically amongst your peers will be missing from your virtual eyesight.
  • Distance Leadership requires aligned expectations and new ground rules – a Contract of Collaboration – motivationally framed as the 3P agreement of Purpose, Product and Process: Agreeing WHY we do it and then WHAT to do and HOW to do it. The latter being very specific in terms of chosen digital tools and timing in which such connections are expected and/or allowed.
  • Consider using Social Network Analysis as a measurement of how people communicate compared to how they should and would. Strong Social Network Analysis will reveal pivotal players and potential isolation, which you must investigate.
  • Satisfy all three factors that is required in a group for people to be truly attached: Shared space – a “room” that is ours. Social potential – we have the opportunity to reach out and “touch” each other. Vocalized community – leadership highlighting the advantages and obligations of the belonging.
  • Consider a “Facebook for Business” solution to increase the social potential. Solutions like Podio and Yammer offer critical functional mass to be worth the time of your group. Seek to offload e-mail and make leader’s participation mandatory — they must drive the effort until content harvest and situational awareness itself will carry  the effort.

In addition the discussions confirmed many related comments and recommendations on communication and ePresence from my book “Unplugged – your path to authentic leadership“: Leverage advantages of synchronous vs asynchronous communication. Consider bandwidth in the perspective of facts vs emotions. Remember trust consists of “can” and “will” — and “will” requires presence to be fully appreciated!

And finally — always remember the profound and abundantly wise conclusion most often attributed to Peter Drucker:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Unless you address cultural issues first, a strategy of Distance Leadership will fail. As noted: Distance Leadership will make the good better — and vice versa.

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