Jim Taggart

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Leading in a Virtualized World: 10 Traits of a Cyber Leader

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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 work distribution, it’s 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 centre. However, smaller countries such as South Korea, Mexico, and Brazil have made notable progress to build their human capital.

Many other countries are hungry to succeed: Turkey, Israel, Singapore, Chile, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the list goes on. In the context of a globalized labour market and as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, this post looks what are the key traits for those leading in this environment. Call it Cyber Leadership.

I’ll begin by sharing what can be now viewed as a humorous technology experience when I was a  young manager some 30 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—at the time. 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 impressive improvements in telecom video-conferencing, such as Cisco’s Telepresence Suites, which enables organizations to connect with managers and co-workers around the globe. The connectivity is not what you expect on Skype (which has fallen behind ZOOM as a result of the pandemic). 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.

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.

Another development in open, collaborative workspaces is what’s called Co-working, where companies and freelancers share physical space. 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. And with the ongoing rethinking of physical worksites because of the Covid-19 pandemic, co-working, including the use of regional and local satellite hubs, will likely become more popular.

What’s also fascinating is how virtual collaboration and teamwork have increasingly become the norm over the past year. There are huge implications for how teams are led, whether it’s a dispersed management team, production team, design team, call centre teams, etc.

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how work is done by those fortunate enough to be in white collar jobs—connecting through tech portals such as ZOOM. Yes, it’s exciting to see these new innovations in communications technology. The challenge is the lag between what technology offers organizations, in terms of productivity gains, improved service or better product 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. And at the time of this post in mid 2021, organizations—private and public—are still working out how their employees will return to work. Many are opting for hybrid models.

What it will come down to in the months and years ahead is this: establishing effective management and leadership practices in organizations, whether it’s a hybrid model, total virtual environment, or one with most or all employees physically in offices.

 

 

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 teleworking will likely 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.

To be 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’s also accompanied by certain challenges, and with any transformational change the human dimension is always at the centre.

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, in no particular order, 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
    Values diversity and different cultures
  7. Is an avid learner and continually seeks out new information
  8. Checks ego at the door, realizing others often possess more knowledge and experience
  9. Shares information openly and widely
  10. Remains centred and focused during a Black Swan event (i.e., the unknown and unexpected). JT

“Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical Humans.”
– Mr. Spock (Star Trek)

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