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How to be an influential leader of a virtual team

team building Mar 11, 2021

In global companies, leveraging influence with a virtual team is not a new way to lead. For those of us that live and lead almost exclusively in a local world, however, our efforts to build relationships and influence others have been in person. What a challenge this last year has been learning to lead remotely! 

Shifting tactical things to a digital environment wasn’t so hard. However, big picture, highly interactive elements of leadership influence require a bit more translation in order to be effective in a virtual world. I must admit, at first, I didn’t think it could be done. Yet, so many leaders shifted and even expanded their influence. So, what is influence and what have we learned about it in the last year?

What is influence? 

Influence: The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.

Shaped by in-person interactions, we lean on the non-verbal cues, we read the room, and we design the environment to help us lead with influence. We literally lost that capacity overnight. However, influence isn’t really about those things! It’s about our capacity to have an effect on others regardless of the environment. 

"Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another." John C. Maxwell

What have we learned about influence in a ZOOM world? 

The nature of influence remains the same. How we influence adapts to our environment if we want the capacity to influence well.

Demonstrating Confidence

We were thrown into leading in a virtual environment. It was the middle of a world health crisis and an environment of social unrest. Just one of those sudden changes would be enough to erode confidence. The snowball effect of all that happened in the last year means that to influence the people around you, you need to grab hold of your own confidence AND invest in others to build up their confidence. Check out Clues You Are A Confident Leader to get some “how to” ideas! 

Creating Connection

It’s easy to default to doing just business activities and forget those connecting activities that came naturally with an in-person environment. You know, the pre-meeting chit-chat or water cooler conversations in between meetings. Influence requires relationships. You have to connect to your people and your people need to connect to each other. So, get intentional with creative (but short) connecting activities. Be prepared in advance because virtual meetings are much less forgiving for rambling or lack of structure. 

Dialing up Interpersonal Skills

Influence is about conversations which requires the use of your interpersonal skills. You can’t be a “talking head” and be influential. Engage others more effectively on ZOOM by dialing up skills like:

  • Be intentional about your facial expressions and body language even over video. Add in a nod. Bring on a smile. Use hand gestures in the video frame. Use tech features like “raise hand” or emoji reactions.  
  • Practice your tech so it’s not a distraction -- remember it’s an interpersonal tool! 
  • Try break out groups or have fewer people in the Zoom room so that you can engage more meaningfully and keep everyone involved! 
  • Beware of multi-tasking when connecting virtually. You will lose influence quickly if you lose engagement in the conversation.

Next Steps

"The higher you want to climb, the more you need leadership. The greater the impact you want to make, the greater your influence needs to be." John C. Maxwell

Influence is an essential leadership competency regardless of your team environment. Remember, you have learned so much in the last year that has stretched you as a leader. Celebrate that and build on what you have learned and what is working.

  1. Step back and make note of what has been working for you in the last year to influence your people and build connections with the team and confidence in your leadership. To continue to grow, pick one interpersonal skill you can dial up to build on what is already working for your team. 
  2. Listen to our latest Side by Side Podcast episode on the Do’s & Don’ts of Zoom for some practical tips to create positive virtual interactions.
  3. What shifts have you made in your leadership style to be influential with your virtual team? Comment below or send me an email. I would love to hear!

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