Applying Adaptive Leadership in Virtual Settings

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In my current position, I enjoy the unique opportunity to work within the fields of military, business, and education, all within the same work day. The constant changing of which “hat” I am wearing at any given time is almost literal – I often change between educational, business, and my military settings depending on the next event, adapting the tone and jargon of the conversation as most appropriate. Regardless of industry, an inability to be adaptive would rightly be seen as lazy, unprofessional, or both.

My workplace, much like those of so many other professionals, now has another layer of uniqueness to them: a virtual aspect.

In a virtual setting, we become more efficient in many ways. We can schedule meetings with several team members across different locations and time zones, or navigate around unprecedented requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. social distancing, childcare issues). However, we cannot let efficiency of processes supersede the need for meaningful human interaction. Regardless of your personal leadership philosophy, the requirement for its adaptability and your self-awareness has never been more evident.

One of the most critical parts of leadership is the ability to “connect” with your team. The advantage of “kneecap to kneecap” leadership is the focus in time and space on the person with whom you are engaging. As I sit in a meeting, I have a reasonable amount of control about how my mannerisms are perceived by others. A handshake greeting, an invitation for others to sit, the choice to either remain behind a desk or sit alongside the other person; each of these decisions have unspoken impacts on a conversation before they even begin.

Now, when holding a meeting over video teleconferencing, my non-verbal cues have several layers between my intent and their perception. It also becomes more difficult to “read” the person on the other end of the screen. Mold your leadership style to one that can remain personable, regardless of the distance involved.

In short, here is a list of considerations that have proven useful to me over the past several months of virtual teaching, coaching, and collaborating:

Be mindful of when you schedule a meeting. Ensure that your convenience is not the only consideration. It will be noticed by others.

“Praise in public; reprimand in private.” Are you affording opportunities for your team or its members to be recognized, specifically and publicly, for their efforts? End-of-week reports or emails work well for this, if not during a larger meeting.

Set your expectations, then demonstrate them. Once the meeting has started, it may be too late to express your housekeeping rules. Within the invitation, and briefly reinforced at the beginning of the meeting, let the participants know your policy on muted mics, “raised hand” or chat preferences, or any other admin rules. If you require a dress code, your team deserves to know that expectation well in advance. 

Verbalize the non-verbal. If I need to look away from the screen, or search for a document in the shared drive, I express that out loud. “Your point made me think of a report we’ve used in the past. Please give me a moment to find it; I don’t want you to think I’m not paying attention.”  As a prolific note-taker, I always comment “I’m going to take some notes as you speak; I’ll be muted until I’m finished so you don’t hear my keyboard as a distraction.” Remove ambiguity, and validate the person speaking.

By: Dr. Cody Brockelmeyer