Long a respected voice in the leadership field, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was named winner of the prestigious 2011 Thinkers50 Leadership Award – as the World's Most Influential Leadership Thinker, additionally ranking #7 on the overall list of Thinkers50 world's top 50 business thinkers. The list was compiled by two of Management-Issues' own, Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove.
It's been my pleasure to interview and talk with Marshall many times over the years, so I took this opportunity to reach out and ask him what his work with some of the world's most influential business leaders has taught him about the unique challenges of leading in a virtual workplace.
What does the shift to a remote team/virtual worker environment mean to the top leaders and executives of big companies?
This change means that leaders need to learn to communicate in a different way. Leaders need to learn to use new technology. They also need to be able to coach their teams in a virtual environment. Communication will become more important – not less important. Leaders need to be able to relate to others in a manner that is positive, simple, focused and fast. As any writer knows, it can be much more difficult to capture great ideas on one page – than on ten pages.
What specific problems or challenges is this creating for them?
Leaders of the future will need to: Think more globally; appreciate cross-cultural diversity; become technologically savvy; build virtual partnerships and share leadership across boundaries.
What mind shift or attitude adjustments do leaders need to make when they're not face to face with their people?
Leaders will need to be sensitive to both practical logistical challenges – such as time zones and language differences – as well as broader communication challenges – such as the need to communicate in 'smaller bites' and the need to learn how to write clearly and succinctly.
With all the big companies and huge names you work with, who "gets" working virtually as an organization and what are they doing specifically to make it work?
One of the greatest leaders that I have ever met in my life is Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford. I recently visited with Alan in Detroit. He showed me (and my coaching clients) an amazing way to keep 'in touch and in focus' with his team.
Alan has a weekly process that involves his global leadership team. They participate from all around the world. They meet at the same time and are virtually connected. Every leader openly shares progress on key projects with every other leader. They are all focused on helping each other – not judging each other.
Alan was honored as the 'CEO of the Year' in the US this year by his fellow CEOs. He has done a great job of turning around a tough situation at Ford. He credits this weekly team process as one main reason for this team's success.
Now that companies have invested (and continue to invest) in collaboration technology, why are most companies still so awful at communicating, especially top-down?
One of the great mistakes (both in the present and in the past) in communication is the terrible misassumption, "If I say it – they will do it." WRONG. Communication is incredibly difficult. One of the great lessons that I have learned is that effective communication requires mutual responsibility. Both parties need to continually check in to make sure that 'what is being said is being heard' and (even more important) 'what is being heard is being acted upon'.
You can listen to my latest conversation with Marshall Goldsmith on the Cranky Middle Manager Show #288.