Leading Virtual Teams: Why You Have To Connect Before You Can Lead

Having been involved in Leadership Training for many years, I too can relate to one of their most significant challenges leaders talk about, that is being ‘time short.’  

As business leaders, we never seem to have enough time, do we? 

So, when I travel, I like to catch up on my reading. On my latest trip, I came across an article in Harvard Business Review which re-enforces the approach we take at Zestfor when it comes to becoming a great leader.

Based on years of experience working both inside and as a coach and trainer in many organisations I am in no doubt that the most successful leaders are those who can ‘connect’ with individuals at all levels across their organisation.  

Everyone’s workstyles and behaviours are different and understanding yourself, others and how to interact, adapt and connect with these differences can be the most crucial aspect of developing yourself, your team and your organisation.     

In this post, I want to explore further why a leader needs to be able to connect with people before they can lead them.  


A Lovable Leader vs A Fearsome Leader 



I realise many of you may not like either of the above two titles. While behavioural researchers disagree on the best terminology to describe ‘types’ of leaders, they agree that Machiavelli’s conundrum of which is best: to be liked or feared is still valid today.

Research shows that when we judge others, especially leaders, we initially look at two charatcteristics: 

  • How lovable they are; think of this as being warm, kind and trustworthy
  • How fearsome they are; think strength or competence

What’s interesting is that people seen as strong yet lacking warmth generate two different emotions in others. Envy and resentment: the latter unhelpful to a leader as it can make them vulnerable to retaliation.

In contrast, someone who is judged as warm yet less competent can result in others feeling compassion, resulting in a desire to help them.

Here is something interesting; in contrast, if we lose respect for the person due to a lack of competence we are more inclined to move away from them.  


Why Is This Important?



In today’s world, it is common for leaders to feel they must show how reliable and competent they are. We want to demonstrate that we are up for the job. 

However, if leaders focus on this characteristic before they have ‘connected’ with people there will be a lack of trust in the relationship, which in turn runs the risk of creating fear. Something I am confident anyone reading this does not want to create.


What Happens When Warmth Is The Leading Characteristic?

Warmth contributes far more to how others evaluate us. Also, people pick up on warmth quicker than competence when they are judging others. The same HBR article also references research by behavioural economists which has shown that when we judge others [read leaders] to be trustworthy, it results in higher economic gains. Which is something I imagine you do want as a leader!


The Power And Impact Of Trust

We have talked before about the importance of trust. Humans are fundamentally social; we need other people to survive and thrive. For that reason, trust is a liberating experience.

Within a business and team setting trust increases openness, collaboration and information sharing.
Stephen MR Covey shared in his book, The Speed Of Trust that when trust is high, the speed of productivity goes up. Conversely, when trust is low, everything slows down, and costs increase.   

Let’s remember that leadership is about inspiring and influencing people. When a leader has trust, it enables them to create opportunities where they can change people’s attitudes and beliefs.

To gain trust, we must have taken time to build rapport with a team member and hence connect. Leading on from this, the best way to influence is to combine warmth and strength.



What Next?

Take a moment and reflect on ways that you demonstrate coming from a place of ‘strength’ as a leader versus warmth? What opportunites can you identify to show more warmth?

Smile and mean it; listen and hear what others are saying, acknowledge it and let them know it is OK to feel how they are feeling. Invest time in building your relationships with each team member.

Remember, you need to connect before you can lead.

Want help developing your ‘virtual leadership skills’ then do get in touch you can email us here.

Until next time,