[January 24, 2014] Leadership is difficult under any circumstance, but distance between humans makes it that much harder. It is well known that face-to-face social interaction brings us the best communications. Distance is a form of barrier or obstacle that acts to prevent understanding.
The “tyranny of distance” means that we do not see others (figuratively) in an organization. Most commonly, this is measured in physical distance – the more geographic separation, the harder it is to keep up good communication and exercise leadership. But distance is also social, cultural, economic, etc. Distance could also result from the way a bureaucracy is organized.
The challenge is to shrink the distance between humans. One common method is through the use of technology like video-teleconferencing to overcome physical distances. Over the past decade, there has been an explosion of methods allowing better quality conferencing methods and technology to improve our connectivity.
It could also mean the reorganization of a company, better arraying the workforce, thereby creating more face-to-face interaction. Everyone has heard about flattening the structure where employees are able to work through the leader’s intent with minimal guidance.
Senior leaders, above all, should be aware of the problems associated with distance and do their very best to ensure its reduction.
Caution should be made here on the overreliance on technology. For example, when using video-teleconferencing, it is possible to have more interaction compared to traveling. But the interaction itself would not be of the same level as face-to-face interaction. We often say that virtual presence is actual absence.
Leaders can overcome many of the disadvantages of the tyranny of distance, but will not be able to totally eliminate all the barriers and obstacles.