Reaching other people has never been easier, but being heard has never been harder.
As distance leaders, we use a variety of different communication tools. From email to team collaboration platforms, and from instant messaging to virtualized face-to-face interactions, there are lots of ways to connect with other people. The real question is finding the right times to use the right communication tools. Are you evaluating the medium you should use when it comes to being heard and recognized as a distance leader?
Team communication tools are getting more sophisticated every day. Collaboration tools, when used properly, can make the virtual office feel like a hub instead of being at the end of a string attached to a can. However, most organizations struggle with team communications, so it’s almost a natural side effect to become less capable of managing your distance leadership career through strong communications.
As a leader, being “visible” is a constant and ongoing challenge. According to Patty Azzarello in her book Rise, ““One of the biggest obstacles people put in their own way is the discomfort with meeting new people. They get into a mode of thinking that the only way to do effective networking is to meet a bunch of strangers and make high-powered connections with lots of people of influence. They build it up in their mind as a really big deal that seems so improbable that they don’t bother doing anything at all (2012).”
As a distance leader, networking and managing your career becomes even more difficult. You may not have the visibility you want, but you could be doing things that are actively getting in the way of advancing your distance leader visibility. Unfortunately, so many of us are attached to our computers during working hours, running from one client appointment to another, or trying to keep our employees connected that finding time to work on our own visibility becomes a to-do item that never gets checked off.
One main culprit of being invisible within an organization is using the wrong communication modes to help others understand the work you do. Email is easy to ignore, as are text messages and communications that are “received” passively. Think of it like a continuum: text messaging and emails are one end, while face-to-face conversations are on the other. There is a great deal of study around the importance or richer communications to communicate value, and using the most impactful strategies when building career development connections is critical.
Spencer-Scarr (2010) explored the problematic aspects of technology-mediated collaboration in a work-focused environment. In a highly diverse work environment, personal differences, such as demographics, ethnicities, and cultures tend to foster miscommunication and prevent effective interpretation of communications (Han & Beyerlein, 2016). That means that your email, your text message, or your instant message are the worst possible ways to broadcast your value in the organization.
Other layers of confusion emerge when an online leader develops an artificial persona or facade that is a carefully constructed picture of how the leader wishes to be perceived. This can be demonstrated in the real world with highly publicized figures, including religious, political, or entertainment celebrities. Trust development relies on frequent communication and shared expectations, and a false persona could prevent a sense of sharing and communal building toward a work goal (Ardichvili, 2008).
So what can you do to foster your visibility and promote your distance leader career? Let’s look at some Do’s and Don’t’s for communicating your value within your organization:
DO: Reach out with the richest context possible. As a distance leader, that means video conferencing needs to be a way of life, even if the other person does not turn their camera on. At minimum, make a phone call!
DO: Make regular appointments with your manager and your manager’s boss to communicate in person about your projects and growth opportunities.
DO: Participate in training opportunities. Note that I didn’t say “listen” to training opportunities – actively participate in online training sessions by being present and asking good questions.
DO: Occasionally respond to an email with a phone call or voicemail. You can still follow up with an email, but providing a personal touch adds both trust and warmth to your response.
DON’T: Avoid being known as the person who only communicates through email or texting. The human connection and trust fostered by seeing someone in a video chat or a phone call conveys more than letters on a screen.
DON’T: Ignore or neglect networking opportunities. As a distance leader, you may already be at a disadvantage for social mixers and team events. Make presenting yourself as a team member a career-level priority.
DON’T: Forget to follow up or show appreciation of the time others spent with you on the phone, video call, or live chat. That’s right, say thank you!
DON’T: If you believe that your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts take the place of actual human interaction, you are sadly mistaken. Go through your friend lists periodically and actually connect with people to foster your networking and career.
The Results and Distance Leader Career Options
Using passive, electronic, or impersonal communication tools are not great ways to foster relationships and support a healthy distance leader career. Communicating with richer media and technologies can help distance leaders be more “visible” in the organization.
What is your strategy for reaching out to others as a way to build a distance leader presence?
How often do you respond to emails with a phone call? Why?
Comment with your answers below!
Want some quick-and-dirty tips for networking as a leader? I found that Patty Azzarello’s book was a great resource that included some good tips, especially in Chapter 16: Authentic Networking, Not Politics. The following affiliate link will allow you to get a copy from Amazon.com. Please note that I do receive a small commission at no cost to you.
Ardichvili, A. (2008). Learning and knowledge sharing in virtual communities of practice: motivators, barriers, and enablers. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 10(4), 541-554. doi:10.1177/1523422308319536
Azzarello, P. (2012). Rise: 3 practical steps for advancing your career, standing out as a leader, and liking your life. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
Han, S. J., & Beyerlein, M. (2016). Framing the effects of multinational cultural diversity on virtual team processes. Small Group Research, 47(4), 351-383. doi:10.1177/1046496416653480
Spencer-Scarr, D. (2010). Unlocking the power of internet collaboration: Adjusting concepts so more people ‘get it’. The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, 6(2), 1-16.