The 21st century has proven to be an era of immense technological change. No longer is technology something that only the engineering and computer industries need to incorporate into their ongoing strategies. Every company needs to consider how to better prepare their current and future leaders to meet the challenges presented by technological disruption.
Leadership roles have already shifted significantly as a result of these changes. Successful organizations are trying to build agile leaders who have the flexibility to connect, adapt, and deliver, often requiring leaders to manage from a distance due to the virtual nature of many organizations. remotely-located virtual teams. As cross-functional teams become a fixture of dynamic organizations, these leaders must also learn effective strategies for influencing without authority.
The Need for Flexibility
Technology has created unprecedented levels of disruption across numerous industries, forcing leaders to balance multiple challenges while navigating change and promoting innovation. Successful leaders will not necessarily be the people with the most experience or expertise, but those who possess and develop the key competencies of agile leadership.
There are three principle capabilities that set agile leaders apart:
They Connect: Agile leaders understand their teams and know how to inspire, influence, and encourage collaboration. Leading by example and making an effort to establish meaningful connections with others, they can successfully drive engagement and have the personal integrity that convinces people to buy-in during tumultuous change initiatives.
They Adapt: The ability to recognize shifting circumstances and make the proper adjustments quickly is a hallmark characteristic of agile leaders. Their situational awareness helps them to understand how changes will impact a company’s effectiveness, as well as how to implement those changes without undermining employee performance. In an era of technology-driven disruption, agile leaders seek a balance between improving efficiency and promoting innovation.
They Deliver: The best agile leaders understand how to generate reliable results by investing in the right accelerators and cultivating high-performance teams. They prioritize effectively, identifying long-term goals and taking concrete steps each day to make them a reality. If their ability to connect and adapt puts them in a position to succeed, their ability to deliver is what helps them keep their teams productive, efficient, and engaged to fulfill the organization’s mission.
As technology changes the workplace and forces companies to reassess how they pursue their goals, agile leaders will be the ones to successfully navigate these challenging waters. They may be called upon to make decisions without a clear blueprint for action, often in reaction to shifts in the marketplace or changing customer needs. Organizations that invest in the assessment and development strategies to identify and promote their high-potential, flexible leaders will have a tremendous advantage over their competitors.
Leading From a Distance
Of course, technology isn’t all about disruption. It also allows organizations to leverage global resources to bring together talented employees regardless of distance limitations. With 70 percent of people around the world working remotely, virtual teams are already an integral part of many companies. The demands of leading these virtual teams, however, presents huge challenges to leaders who are more accustomed to managing face-to-face teams.
Effective virtual leaders can implement a number of best practices to ensure sustained success:
Build Trust: Trust is the coin of the realm when it comes to effective virtual teams. Team members need to know they can depend on one another if they’re going to engage in productive collaboration. By emphasizing accountability and eliminating toxic behavior, virtual team leaders can build a culture that helps people to stay engaged and focused on achieving key organizational goals.
Create a “High-Touch” Environment: With communications technology making virtual interaction easier than ever, leaders can promote ongoing contact that allows team members to get to know one another better and stay on the same page. Encouraging frequent contact keeps team members from becoming disengaged and less accountable. Online chat tools and virtual meeting software are useful not only for exchanging vital information, but also for encouraging the kind of camaraderie that remote-based teams often struggle to build.
Empower Team Members: Virtual teams need to be given the power to work independently, especially because team members may work in different time zones or keep different schedules. The best leaders find ways to set up systems that monitor progress and ensure that everyone remains accountable for their work while avoiding micromanaging. Project management software makes it easier than ever for team members to stay on task while still making it possible for the rest of the team to determine the status of critical projects.
Organizations that embrace virtual teams cannot afford to overlook the value of leaders who can build trust and drive engagement from a distance. Simply treating virtual teams the same way as colocated teams will only lead to frustration, low productivity, and, eventually, turnover. Effective leaders learn how to leverage software tools to create a team culture that emphasizes collaboration and accountability. Investing in good virtual leadership training programs will prepare leaders to realize the potential of these virtual teams.
Influencing Without Authority
In today’s fast-moving economy, all companies must think of themselves as technology companies. Whether they’re leveraging technology to get products to market more effectively or using it to deliver better services and customer experiences, companies can’t afford to cling to siloed mentalities. One effect of this shift in thinking is the proliferation of cross-functional teams that include members from multiple departments across the organization. Reaching agreement on these teams can be a challenge because leaders often lack direct authority over other members.
To be successful leading cross-functional teams, leaders need to learn the secrets of influencing without authority:
Find Common Ground: Teams cannot build consensus when their members don’t share the same values and goals. When leaders establish a common purpose, they can create an environment in which everyone is working toward the same solution, making it easier to utilize influencing strategies.
Build Trust: No influencing strategy can be successful without trust. By demonstrating reliability and being as transparent as possible, leaders can build their teams on a strong foundation that promotes accountability and mutual respect.
Establish Credibility: Leaders must earn the respect of their teams before they can expect to influence them successfully. People with track records of honesty, expertise, and integrity are more likely to find their requests taken seriously.
Know the Team: When leaders know how their team members think and behave, it’s easier to empathize with them and facilitate better communication. Successful leaders build close relationships that make it easier for teams to collaborate effectively.
In a cross-functional team, it’s also important to understand when to utilize the right influencing strategy for the situation. For team members who respond to logical arguments, that could mean appealing to reason rather than seeking to inspire them or consult with them to collect their input. By their very nature, cross-functional teams approach problems from multiple perspectives, which is tremendously valuable in an era when technology is impacting businesses in unpredictable ways. Learning the right skills to promote more effective collaboration in these teams will help leaders to make the most of their potential.
Changes in technology are driving changes in leadership roles for many of today’s organizations, regardless of their size or industry. Only by accepting this reality and taking steps to facilitate that change can they hope to find success and continue to thrive in the future. For many companies, that will mean embracing new approaches to developing effective leaders and building engaged, productive teams that can deliver the innovative solutions needed to drive business results.