The concept of open leadership is based on mutual trust. This requires leaders to show a high degree of openness in dialogue and relationship management. Employees may – and should – take on control tasks, work and make decisions as independently as possible. The technical term for this leadership concept, which emerged in 2010, boils down to four letters: HERO is short for “Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives”. The concept is designed to give employees who can work independently and have the corresponding skills new control and co-ordination tasks.
In a nutshell: while, in the past, the focus was on designing deliberately how tasks should be completed, the advent of web 2.0 has rendered an unplanned and autonomous development possible, improving the ability of teams to control themselves.
Virtual leadership, then, has a lot to do with letting go. In this context, mutual trust is indispensable. Leading with attitude – even over a digital distance – is, here, the means of choice. Yet, how can you enable and support this approach under virtual conditions, given the spacial and temporal distance between you and the people involved, which complicates the process considerably? The keywords are: good communication, empathy, and understanding. There is a convenient toolbox that you can use in practice to strengthen these three factors.
Kick-off meetings also work in a virtual space. Clarifying goals and expectations together strengthens team development. Later on, regular (virtual) meetings can help to keep the team abreast of any progress and ideas. So-called “check-ins” serve to bring all team members up to date and to efficiently allocate tasks and responsibilities. In times of crisis such as these, when all employees work from home, a morning check-in with everybody can be a good start into the day. By the way: science has shown that there is a connection between frequent interaction and the performance of employees.
It is clear that leadership in a virtual context is more than just allocating tasks. Communicative skills such as listening become increasingly important to probe and understand the points of view of the team members. Monitoring work progress from a distance is a skill that requires a considerate mind. For leaving your employees sufficient freedom can be difficult – especially, as regards their work-life balance. With enterprise 2.0, leaders gradually develop into mentors and coaches.
Of course, there is nothing better than a face-to-face conversation. However, if this is not an option due to corona, what can you do? A quick phone call or a short e-mail may suffice to discuss straightforward arrangements. Yet, what about conducting a sensitive appraisal interview or discussing a complex new task? Here, non-verbal communication is an essential ingredient in the conversation. In the current situation, then, holding a video conference is, indeed, always an adequate solution.
Practical tips as to how you, as a leader, can brace yourself for the challenges of the virtual world of work will be provided next week in part three of my “virtual leadership” blog series.
When preparing for my first online lecture on virtual leadership at FOM University of Applied Sciences for Economy & Management (which forms the basis for this blog series), I got interesting insights from the following authors:
Peter M. Wald, Lang, R., Rybnikova, I. (2014): Aktuelle Führungstheorien und -konzepte, Wiesbaden
Buhse, W. (2014). Management by Internet. Kulmbach: Plassen