Recently, I spoke at a global conference for a technology company on the topic of leadership. I stressed that leaders must make the effort to create a social environment that promotes engagement. This is part of my Get PSST model for engagement, which involves getting Personal, Strengths-based, Social, and Targeted. For an overview of Get PSST!, click here.
Afterwards, I received a question that I hear constantly:
“How can we be more social given that we are a virtual team, spread across multiple physical locations, states, and countries?”
Today, I will share Steps #1 through #3; later this week, I’ll share Step #4.
Step 1: Let your desire to lead inspire your efforts.
In the case of “battlefield promotions,” an individual gets tapped—sometimes involuntarily—to lead. Being in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time can put you in the role of the new leader. In the real world, though, leadership requires desire. You have to want to lead. It doesn’t just fall in your lap.
Assuming you have the desire to lead, let that passion inspire your efforts. And if you’re in a virtual team, you’re going to need that desire, because it takes more effort to connect socially with your coworkers, team members, bosses, or direct reports when you’re spread out than it does when you are face-to-face or across the aisle.
On top of the challenge of being virtual, there’s an additional challenge: I’m seeing a growing trend towards team and peer leadership, especially in functional organizational structures such as in teams of engineers, project managers, manufacturing experts, etc. In these work environments, sometimes called “leader-less” teams (not meaning with NO LEADER, but rather with LESS top-down LEADERSHIP), employees often wait for someone to take charge or lead. But sometimes, no one steps forward, perhaps fearing that to do so will earn a “who-died-and-left-you-boss” attitude from coworkers.
Let your desire to lead push you past any insecurity or fear you may have about “what will others think?”
Step 2: Signal your intentions.
When you’re appointed team lead or boss, there’s usually some sort of announcement. But when you’re taking on the responsibility within a virtual team and in the role of a peer leader, you have to be clear about what you’re doing—and why you’re doing it. Why? Some people might view your actions as a power-play, and they will resist if they don’t know you or suspect your motives. You want others to want your leadership, and you want them to be clear that you aren’t making a power-play but rather offering to take on additional responsibilities.
So how do you signal your intention to take on social leadership responsibility for your team? State it clearly. Consider sending an email that says something like this:
I recently attended a webinar about engagement, and one of the points the facilitator made was about the importance of creating a social environment at work. That got me thinking that regardless of where we live or what our role is on the team, there are two reasons we show up for work: (1) WE NEED A JOB, AND (2) WE NEED MONEY! And since we all have to work, I want to find a way to make this the best place to work possible.
This is important to me, so I’m offering to take on the role of social coordinator for our group. What turns strangers into acquaintances and even friends? Getting to know each other better! That’s why I’m offering to do…
Does that sound like a power-play? No. It sounds like someone who’s just offered to host a holiday party at his or her house. How can you resist or resent a person who uses that approach of servant leadership? Take the thoughts above, modify them to fit your voice and personality, and jump in to peer leadership.
Step 3: Realize that “social coordinator” doesn’t mean dictator or one-man show.
Leadership isn’t about having all of the answers; it’s about creating an environment where the answers surface. Ask your team members for their ideas about how to get to know each other better. The fact is that we’re all more committed to ideas that we generate as opposed to ideas that others generate and impose on us.
You can generate team ideas two ways. One, you can create and send out a survey to gather ideas, gauge interest, and garner support. Depending on what tool you use to create and launch your survey, the results can provide anonymity to those taking the survey, compiling ideas without exposing any single person’s identity. If you choose to survey, make sure that you share the results with the entire team. Nothing creates disengagement as much as asking people to share their opinions and then ignoring them when they do.
Two, and perhaps more powerful in the case of virtual teams, is reaching out to team members one-on-one. This personalized approach makes your efforts less a project to be managed than a passion to be pursued. When you’re truly excited about something in your life, are you more likely to send out an email to a group of people announcing your good news? Or does it have more impact and reward when you call someone or talk to that person face-to-face? The best way to GET SOCIAL is to…get social. Pick up the phone. Send an IM. Or if you send out an email, make it personal and not generic.
Tomorrow, I’ll share Step 4: Have some ideas in your back pocket where I’ll lay out some ideas that you can use to GET SOCIAL with your virtual team.