Invisible Leadership in the Remote Workplace

Date: June 7, 2016 Posted by: Emma Santa In: Virtual Leadership

It happens. You’re having a highly productive morning, when suddenly you realize you haven’t received a response from your boss regarding that really-important, time-sensitive project. You scroll through your emails and realize they haven’t sent you anything for the last two weeks. You check your instant messenger service: The boss is in a meeting.

The boss is always in a meeting.

You start to panic a little. What if your boss has been avoiding you because all of those meetings… well – they’re about you! You’re getting fired! Nothing left to do now but wait for the inevitable. So you wait for the boss to make the first move.

And you wait.

And you wait some more.

Then the boss sends you an email. “Where’s that project report?”

ARGH!!The curse of invisible leadership!


In any virtual communication, the potential for a skewed perspective exists. Virtual communications are blips that utilize a fraction of the communication spectrum. Because of their nature, they almost always have room for interpretation. If the recipient has enough experience communicating with the sender, that interpretation can be very close to reality. If they don’t – as seen above – the messages can be blown out way out of proportion. How do we stop this creative interpretation process from occurring?

1.) If you are the leader: Communicate when you are busy.

You might like to appear available at all times, but your team members know you are being pulled in multiple directions – you either have your own boss to answer to, or if you are the top-boss you have customers, clients and shareholders. When you don’t communicate those moments when you are busy or knee deep in projects, your team members don’t know what’s going on. Suddenly, you appear inaccessible – or, even worse – that you are ignoring them.

Bonus for you is that you will be saving time by declaring what you are up to. Much better to say it up front, than to answer all of the concerns individually after the fact. Human nature takes those blips of communication and strings them together into a story that makes sense. The story is based on the recipients experiences, education, personal bias, and imagination.

Share what you are working on – who knows, maybe they can help!

2.) If you are the team member: Don’t feed the fears!

You don’t have all of the information – don’t go jumping to conclusions! Reach out to other team mates (careful you don’t feed their fears!) and ask them if they know anything. Before that deadline comes up, ask again. Maybe your email got misfiled, accidentally deleted, or has slipped their mind. Reach out again, share your concerns, and offer to help. Leading up is a beautiful thing!

(Check out this post from John Maxwell to learn more –> 9 Ways To Lead Your Leader)

3.) Realize that reality is the sum of all perspectives.

To create effective connections in a virtual environment, we must proactively seek out other perspectives. If we can’t actually get the other persons perspective, we should carefully consider multiple possibilities and how we might be perceived. With the scenario presented at the beginning, both parties are responsible for the disconnect. If you want to be more successful at developing stronger connections with those you work with in the virtual space – look closely at how your perspective is shaping your assumptions and how those assumptions are driving your actions. If you see room for misinterpretation, craft a clearer message.

Reality is the sum of all perspectives.

Have you ever misinterpreted a virtual communication? How did you recover? Has it shaped how you communicate and received virtual messages from others? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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