E-Leadership: The Challenges
“Should there be a difference between regular leadership and e-leadership?” is a question many business leaders are now having to ask. While many of the required qualities may be the same, e-leadership doesn’t require face-to-face contact with the team being led. Therefore, e-leaders have to be brilliant communicators – otherwise much could be “lost in translation.”
Communication involves a significant non-verbal component where we read the body language of others and detect inflections in tone indicating mood and interest. While online video meetings go a long way to assisting in gauging the response of team members, e-leaders need many other skills in order to create a cohesive and fully functioning team.
Key Competencies for an E-leader
Decisive yet mindful:
Mindfulness is defined as being aware – specifically of changing developments in the marketplace as well as the changing needs, feelings and levels of involvement of team members, in order to keep them fully engaged and at peak performance. Decisiveness, on the other hand, is characterised by displaying little or no hesitation and by being resolute and determined. This is something of a juggling act for the e-leader, who has to make quick decisions yet avoid alienating members of the organisation who want input into decisions. To do this, the e-leader needs to build up a rapport with team members and gain trust so that when a decision is taken, team members understand what led to the decision and will be supportive – even though they may not have received the usual chance to supply their input.
Able to combine a top down and grass roots approach:
With the fast-moving pace of technology, e-leaders rely on individual skills of members of the organisation to keep up to speed with developments. Therefore, leadership becomes more democratic as members become involved in dialogue. Yet the e-leader has to manage that dialogue so it does not digress and become counter-productive. Often, the team leader is more of a facilitator in situations where the disparate skills of the team are drawn upon to find a solution. No longer is it only a top-down approach, but also grass roots approach as innovative ideas are given credence. E-leadership is a paradox where people in an organisation are forced to face challenges and together find solutions rather than simply relying on a leader for all the answers; yet at times they must accept the leader’s snap decision. Therefore, trust is essential.
Creating a community without sacrificing the individual:
The e-leader has to keep focus on goals and manage networks, while at the same time developing individual team member skills. No longer is the obligatory training course sufficient. In order to succeed the e-leader is constantly ensuring members are familiar with the latest developments in order to keep the flow of work moving and maintain a competitive edge. While the e-team leader has the skills to bring the team to top productivity in meeting goals, it is also essential to ensure no member is made to feel relegated to the sidelines, and that each person’s individual assets are not sublimated.
Appreciate the painting without ignoring the brushstrokes:
The e-leader will be able to see where members fit into the organisation and where the organisation fits within their sector. An overall worldview will be combined with an introspective look into the organisation and how it operates – taking into account who and what makes the organisation unique, just as painters have their unique style of brushstrokes. The e-leader needs to be able to focus on these details to develop a team that is adaptable to changing scenarios and strategies within global markets.
Establish a routine yet be amenable to change:
It is well known that people are resistant to change, especially when management attempts to impose new systems. The dichotomy for the e-leader is to establish efficient structures so the team has systems to follow – but at the same time allow members to think creatively in order to solve problems. The e-leader will be aware of the capabilities of team members and will also be able to develop their skills within a framework that can be compared to a cage with elastic mesh instead of iron bars – allowing for change when needed, yet returning to the original form where necessary.
The e-leader needs the skills of knowing when to stand out and lead their team, Braveheart style, and when to blend in allowing the team to reach shared decisions. A clear sense of purpose, empathy and clarity in communicating ideas affords e-leaders the chance to make sense of the paradoxical situations in which they will find themselves.