Virtual Leadership – Leading Across and Beyond Your Team

Matt Havens Virtual Leadership

Reflections from Middle Management

Hi everybody! And welcome to the start of fall! Football has returned to TV, pumpkin spice lattes are back to being the official “Drink of America,” and the kids are fully back into the swing of school while parents adjust to the new school year schedule. It’s an awesome time of the year! Seriously, nothing is more exciting than figuring out how to do algebra (again) so little Johnny doesn’t flunk out and get stuck living with Mom and Dad for the next 30 years!

To expand upon last month’s intro to the series Reflections from Middle Management (you can read it here), this month I want to talk about what we’ll call virtual leadership. Virtual leadership is about becoming a leader outside of the confines of your organizational chart. It’s easy to showcase your leadership with the people who report to you. I mean, let’s be honest, these people want to be in your good graces so their paycheck keeps coming each week and you don’t assign them some awful project working with that guy from Accounting. NOBODY likes that guy! (sorry, whoever that guy is).

The more challenging task is becoming a leader amongst those who don’t report to you – and in some cases, share your same title or role. Or it might be about showcasing your leadership to your boss’s peers; the ones you don’t work directly for, but who you’ll need to interact with throughout the course of your job. It’s these people who will also help inform and influence conversations about you to senior leadership, so it’s important to have a good brand and relationship with them so they can support all the great things your boss is (hopefully) saying about you.

Undoubtedly, this is a hard step in the leadership journey and one which many of us either forget about entirely or struggle to remain consistent in our approach. For example, I’ve always been the type to put my head down, focus on the work at hand, and let the results speak for themselves. It worked in the past – affording me some new and exciting opportunities in my career – but I failed, at times, to land some of the opportunities I truly coveted. Why? If I’m performing at a high level, shouldn’t that naturally open doors for the next promotion? It’s that question and line and thinking which took me years to understand and eventually wrap my head around the concept of virtual leadership.

So let’s see where you are right now in your thinking. Ponder this question: Is it more important to:

  • Do your job exceptionally well and nobody knows about you, what you did, or how you did it?
  • Or be mediocre at your job, but have a variety of other leaders who can speak to your character, leadership approach, and potential?

Depending on where you’re at in our journey, it might be a tough question. Because honestly speaking, it’s a trick question. Both scenarios won’t get it done alone. You can’t be great at your job, but have done nothing to bring others along with you. And you can’t be one of those people who “networks” like crazy with some of the decision-makers, but can’t really deliver the needed results. You’ve got to have BOTH.

Most people acknowledge the ability to deliver exceptional results is critical – so let’s assume you’re already doing this piece well. Now the focus needs to be around this virtual leadership piece. How are you bringing others along with you? How do you expand your own brand and awareness outside your organizational chart? Most of the battle is about finding opportunities to engage with a broader audience of people, so I’ve put together a few ideas to help you get started:

Stop it with the email!

Building a relationship with someone never started out by sending countless emails back and forth. At least not a good relationship. Stop pouring over an email to make sure it’s worded perfectly and instead pick up the phone. If you’ve got the chance to meet face-to-face, do it. Work in different office locations? Try to leverage video technology so you can actually see the person while you’re talking. It’s important to make every attempt at a personal connection if you hope to make a good impression or build a stronger relationship.

Seek other’s input.

Get your colleague’s opinion on a business idea you’ve got or a challenge you’re facing. I’ve yet to meet a person who didn’t appreciate someone coming to them asking for their input or opinion on a topic. The person you’re building a relationship with won’t either. At the end of the day, you’ll walk away with a stronger idea and they’ll probably walk away with a higher level of respect since you reached out and engaged them in the process.

Be consistent – and use your calendar.

It’s not virtual leadership if the only time you reach out is when you need something from the other person or something went wrong. Be consistent in staying in touch and calendar future meetings so they don’t get away from you (or you fall into the trap of forgetting). If it’s someone at a higher job class, ask them if you can set up 30-minutes quarterly to touch base. If it’s a peer or someone in the same job class, monthly might be more appropriate. Either way, get it on the calendar so you don’t put it on the backburner while you’re out focusing on results.

I hope you enjoyed the second installment of Reflections in Middle Management. If you have your own ideas or takes on the topic, I’d love to hear them. Find me on Twitter at @HavensSpeaking or send me a note at matt@matthavens.com. Thanks for reading!

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