There was a time when business was done face-to-face. Sure there’d be some travel, but it was over shorter distances. We’d have networks of offices spread across the country servicing our customers in close proximity to one another. We’d know our bosses and their families intimately – we’d play golf, send our kids to the same schools and the team building retreat would be held in a neighboring town.
This was another time – and another world.
These days, our bosses can be across the country – or across the planet. We spend our time on conference calls, video and virtual conferences and yes, planes. We snatch productivity from the dead hours of airport lounges and the long nights of jetlag re-adjustment.
We have lost the proximity that helped us create culture, build and motivate our teams and intimately service our customers. As leaders, however, it is our role (and our challenge) to bring our customers and our teams closer together in a way that harmonizes all our interactions across time and space.
Now, you may think I am referring to technology – to social media, blogs and the like. Yes, these have a place – and a very productive place it can be. But I am taking my lead here from John Baldoni’s Harvard Business Review blog post – How to Lead Without Saying a Word. John suggests that our non-verbal cues often say more than our words ever do – and in a “long distance relationship” with our teams, we need to be careful that our leadership style, messages, directives and suggestions are not misinterpreted.
Clearly this is easier said than done, but, John’s key points provide us a pathway:
- Relax: When you are speaking on the phone, your voice will sound “thinner” than it is in real life. By relaxing your neck and throat and breathing deeply into your stomach, you will free your diaphragm. This will help your voice to drop a little. This give you a deeper, warmer voice. It sounds “more real”.
- Invite conversation: Make sure that you have a list of all attendees on the call. Where possible, ensure that each person contributes – and if someone is silent, invite them to contribute on a particular topic. Remember, silence can appear forbidding – and you want collaboration and communication, not fear.
- Keep your powder dry: Encourage your team to participate early in the call. Add value where appropriate, but make sure that many voices are heard. Should a discussion escalate, step in at the right time – keep your voice steady and measure your words. Bring your skills and experience to bear and refocus the conversation on the agenda and the objectives.
To these points, I would also add the following:
- Encourage connection: Where possible, find ways to connect up people in your teams. If particular individuals are closely located, build projects around their involvement. Do the same for people who seem to “click”.
- Over thank: Encouragement breeds confidence. Even a short email or voicemail message saying “thanks” will put your team into a productive frame of mind.
Nina Nets It Out: Many of us are now working in locations that are separate from our teams. This demands new practices from leaders – think through what works for your “local” teams and translate that to new ways of working that help drive productivity and job satisfaction in your team members no matter where they work or live.