Even the most experienced team leaders can make us weep with boredom. They torture us with their monotone narrations of 10-Mb slide decks. They regale us with irrelevant minutiae, while sidestepping the really important stuff. Their meetings are more like monologues, with everyone else listening from the sidelines. And for the most part, they probably imagine they’re pretty interesting people!
When we experience boring leaders face-to-face, we have to at least pretend to be somewhat interested. We might take notes (even if it’s a shopping list!), throwing in a few occasional nods so we won’t be called on to replay key points. Copious amounts of caffeine help to some degree, as do the many bio breaks we’ll inevitably need as a result. And who hasn’t had a colleague place an “emergency” phone call in extreme cases of ennui?
Tuning out boring virtual leaders is far easier. Once you put yourself on mute, there’s no end to the more important things you can do, like responding to emails, writing up your latest status report, or finding the best price on that new digital camera you’ve been pining for. (If you work from home, this “important” work can extend to laundry, dinner prep, weight-lifting and more.) As long as you’re within earshot of the conversation, your team leader may assume you’re present while in fact you are completely absent.
So, how can boring virtual leaders learn to become more captivating? (And no, it is not an inherent skill that some are just born with!) In this issue, I take a look at some steps even the blandest leader can take to evolve into an engaging, stimulating and captivating leader, from near or far.
- Discover the leadership qualities and attributes your team members find attractive. To play to the crowd, you need to figure out what the crowd clamors for. Members of a sales and marketing team might particularly value charisma and energy, while product engineers might regard a mastery over technical details as more captivating. Cultural differences also can play a role. Some may value your ability to begin and end meetings on time and keep conversations focused, while others look for a leader who’s an exceptional relationship-builder. Pay attention to what seems to spur spirited conversation, and probe further in 1:1 meetings. Survey instruments can also help shed light on preferences, styles and behavioral tendencies pretty quickly, especially when you have few opportunities for face-to-face interaction.
- Demonstrate a genuine interest in your people. Find out what makes your team members tick, both professionally and personally, and use this knowledge to help make meaningful connections. Examples: When Maria mentions that she wants to sharpen her marketing skills, suggest that she take on project launch responsibilities. Hans has indicated that he likes working with younger people, so ask him to help mentor new team members. Margaret has privately expressed guilt about not visiting her aging parents often enough. Ask her how they’re doing every so often, and send Margaret pertinent articles that she might find helpful. When you show interest in others, they’ll suddenly see you as a lot more interesting.
- Pursue your own growth. Let’s face it: If you’re bored with yourself, chances are, you bore others. Constantly look for ways to tune up your mind and stretch yourself, professionally and personally. Want to be a better communicator? Join a writing group or try a class on storytelling or business writing. Feel left behind when it comes to the latest virtual collaboration tools? Ask a tech-savvy colleague (or practically any kid over the age of nine) to show you the ropes. Interested in learning more about China? Take beginner’s Mandarin, steep yourself in the culture by reading books and seeing films, and get some informal cultural coaching from colleagues. And then, buy a nonrefundable ticket to Beijing! People who show they’re open to learning and growing are way more fun than people who act like they already know it all.