[February 22, 2015] One of the challenges many organizations have is providing virtual leadership over long-distances, especially among its most senior personnel and staffs. Organizations often have personnel and equipment scattered geographically; sometime across the globe. Senior personnel don’t always have the leadership experience and are not adept at working in complex, changing, and geographically diverse environments.
The senior Iraq Coalition engineer staff section in 2005, for example, had personnel from six countries speaking three languages (English, Mongolian, and Spanish). None of our people spoke a second language and the cultural barriers were difficult. In addition, we needed to communicate daily with our Iraqi engineer and a higher headquarters in the United States. The tendency was to isolate those who didn’t speak English or those who aren’t available on the same work schedule. This must be avoided.
Senior leaders who are adept in virtual leadership can understand the more difficult barriers and take early action to overcome them. Language and cultural differences pose a high risk of miscommunication. Language interpreters don’t provide a perfect translation, how work is carried out differs, individual idiosyncrasies and psychological issues come and go, and incompatible telecommunications systems are a few in the maze of factors that often disrupts the flow of quality communication.
There are organization-specific techniques and procedures that can be employed to overcome many of these but every leader must remain constantly on guard to the many barriers to leadership across a global format. This means establishing some specific guidelines. Here are a few that should be addressed:
- Provide when and now to communicate
- Utilize approved telecommunication technologies (reliability, compatibility, and security)
- Create standard procedures for capturing information and storing it in an accessible location
- Create a virtual knowledge team that provides assistance
Senior leadership skills necessary for good communications are:
- Clarity in mission, tasks, and objectives
- Understanding of the cultural and technical issues that can cause miscommunication
- Ability to function in a complex and highly demanding work environment
- Good social skills that have been adapted to work when not in direct contact with people
A successful virtual leader is one who can operate in a global environment, remains vigilant that everyone is aware of the obstacles, and establishes practical guidelines. This is also the essence of good leadership.
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