Leading in a Virtualized World: 10 Traits of a Cyber Leader
The world is getting smaller, shrinking steadily due to rapid advancements in telecommunications technology. Work is being distributed to countries that would have been scorned at a decade ago.
As much as telecom technology has been a key driver to accelerating this work distribution, it has been complemented by an amazing push by emerging economies to develop their human capital. Examples abound, of which China and India (combined population of 2.7 billion) is usually held up front and center.
However, there are many other countries that are hungry to succeed: Turkey, Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Brazil, Indonesia, and the list goes on.In the context of a globalized labor market, this post zooms in on recent developments in technology that hold enormous promise for improving the functioning of virtual teams. However, these developments bring with them the need for what can be called Cyber Leadership.
I’ll share an experience when I was a young manager 25 years ago and part of a senior management team. The executive head, my boss, decided to buy video-conferencing equipment to connect three sites, cities that were a few hours drive from one another. His aim was to reduce the amount of time that managers and some staff spent driving back and forth for meetings. This was totally unproductive time since in contrast to airplane or train travel it’s rather difficult to work while driving. Not recommended.
This equipment was state-of-the art and VERY expensive. The problem was that it proved to be highly unreliable. The picture quality was poor and you had to refrain from moving, otherwise you ended up with a series of blurred images. The sound quality was mediocre as well. But the worst problem was the equipment’s tendency to crash during the middle of a video-conference.
It was a lesson learned because after a while the equipment in the three sites gathered dust.
Contrast that scene to an amazing improvement in telecom video-conferencing. Cisco’s new Telepresence Suites enables organizations to connect with managers and co-workers around the globe. The connectivity is not what you expect on Skype. Cisco’s system requires up to 20 times the bandwidth as Skype, but the product is amazing. It simulates a conference room, so whether one group is in Mumbai, another London, another Chicago and another Toronto, the participants are able to observe body language and feel that they’re in the same room. The system is stable (as opposed to my early experience), with excellent picture and sound quality.
Of course, the hefty price tag ($300,000) that accompanies this technology, used by large companies, has a limited market, for now. Small and medium-size businesses can only dream of being able to afford this technology. However, as with technology expect continued innovations and price adjustments in the future.
Of course there are other ways to connect workers around the world, whether it’s Skype or another technology. I have Skype chats with people living on different continents. Use what’s available.
One new development in open, collaborative workspaces is what’s called Co-working, where companies and freelancers share physical space. According to Strategy and Business: The Promise of the Cloud Workplace, only 70 locations using this form of work exist around the world. The concept is especially popular with workers in their twenties and thirties, and forward-looking companies are eyeing it because of the potential for not just operational savings but in particular in fostering creativity and innovation.
What’s fascinating is how virtual collaboration and teamwork will increasingly become the norm. There are huge implications for how teams are led, whether it’s a dispersed management team, production team, design team, call center teams, etc.
Yes, it’s exciting to see these new innovations in communications technology, not to forget the growing use of social media (eg, Twitter and Facebook) in corporations. The challenge is the lag between what technology offers organizations, in terms of productivity gains, improved service or better quality, and how people work at a distance from one another. Of special note is leadership and how it’s practiced in a virtualized world.
Much has been written in the past few years on telecommuting. It was the rage for a while. Then the dissenters came out of the woodwork to express either their skepticism or outright opposition to its use, arguing that the productivity gains were not present and that employees were sitting around in their bathrobes producing minimal work.
It’s ALL about effective management and leadership practices.
If you’re a manager of a team and its members are not aligned towards a shared vision and common purpose, if each member is not clear on his or her role, and if there’s not strong inter-dependency of effort among the members, then yes telecommuting will be a disaster. But then you’ll also have a poorly functioning group of people. Forget about calling your staff a team.
Don’t even waste your time pretending to trust your staff. You’ve got a lot to do create a team; working in a virtual context will come later. The latter is the easy part.
Here’s the link to posts I’ve written on teamwork; they may be of assistance to you.
To be what I’ll call a true Cyber Leader requires a strong and sustained commitment. Technology is proving to be a powerful enabler to bringing people together from locations stretched around the globe. The possibilities are endless to how organizations can develop partnerships, organize themselves and produce products and services. Cyber Leadership brings with it exciting opportunities for personal growth. However, it is also accompanied by certain challenges, and with any transformational change the human dimension is always at the center.
Whether your organization is adopting virtual teams or is planning to do so, if you’re in a leadership role are you ready to lead in this new environment? Are you willing to be a 21st Century Cyber Leader?
Here are 10 traits I’ll suggest that are essential to effective Cyber Leadership. However, it’s not definitive; please add to this list. A 21st Century Cyber leader:
1. Embraces change enthusiastically
2. Keeps up with technology trends
3. Maintains a perspective on the balance between technology and people
4. Trusts that people will perform well when lead effectively
5. Understands the dynamics of teamwork
6. Is open to new ideas, possibilities and opportunities, even if they’re unorthodox
7. Values diversity and different cultures
8. Is an avid learner and continually seeks out new information
9. Checks ego at the door, realizing others often possess more knowledge
10. Shares information openly and widely
Can you suggest any other traits?
“Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical Humans.”
– Mr. Spock (Star Trek)
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