A senior officer who had recently been made aware of relevant discussion threads and bulletin boards filled with colorful conversation regarding our profession asked me if I thought a visible online presence was worthy of his time. As you might imagine, given my track record, my answer was an emphatic “Yes, Sir!” Long ago, I realized that leadership is less about control and all about influence. Continued experimentation made it clear that it is difficult to truly influence if we are not genuinely connecting with the individuals who comprise the team we are attempting to lead. Influence is a byproduct of authentic connection and connection is only realized through familiarity, familiarity through active presence. We are all familiar with the value of leadership/management by walking around and most of us will agree that physical presence is critical if we are to effectively lead, but why stop there? Why not make ourselves omnipresent? We have the opportunity and responsibility to lead and influence those within our physical reach and in this day and age, we need not limit that reach to our arm’s length, our direct/indirect reports, or those with whom we personally engage regularly. If we are truly interested in leading, mentoring, and influencing, we will expand our reach and make ourselves as present in the virtual world as we are in the physical world. I am not advocating for the micromanagement that an extended virtual reach has provided too many, but I am proposing that we use our extended reach to connect, influence, inform, and lead with others who are genuinely interested (regardless of their organizational relationship within or outside our formal team).
As we lead our team, raise our children, or teach students, our audience is outside of our physical reach far more than they are within. That means we have more time to influence the truly interested regardless of physical proximity. Our written words, whether on paper or electronic, are there to be read, pondered, and stimulate others at a time of their choosing. If the team is truly a team, our words might garner a response, inspire constructive debate, and leave all participants (even, and sometimes especially, lurkers) having learned something new. Such dialogue is critical if we are to connect, influence, and lead.
I know many leaders who embrace the responsibility of giving their team all of the tools needed to do their job while helping anyone interested to grow personally and professionally. Many of us are committed to leading our respective team and care a great deal about giving them the level of leadership that they deserve, but why do we focus only on our team? Why don’t we lead WITH our team? Why don’t we lead FROM our platform? Why don’t we lead ACROSS and BEYOND organizational boundaries?
We can effectively lead our team by focusing our efforts entirely on the physical reach (and many do); we can lead by walking around; and, yes, we can directly engage individuals within our team, groups that make up our team, or our team as a whole. That team can become a well-oiled machine and a cylinder of excellence worthy of emulation by all. Many will adamantly state that our task as leaders is just that…to lead our team. I would be one of them, and I would also state that doing just that is the bare minimum. If we truly believe that our leadership is making a difference, stopping there is irresponsible. We must make the prepositions WITH, FROM, ACROSS, and BEYOND part of our everyday vocabulary and supported by action.
I was recently explaining the difference between being a Commanding Officer and an Operational Commander to an officer who wasn’t seeing the difference between the two. He spoke of leading his team and reporting to his seniors. The language he chose was entirely vertical speak, up and down the chain of command. There was no use of the prepositions WITH, ACROSS, BEYOND, or FROM. He was missing the horizontal aspects of leadership and influence while focusing on commanding his team and informing his boss. Though I see great value in it, an intentional presence in the virtual world is not the point of this post. The point is the philosophy that serves as the WHY behind such a presence. If we truly want to lead, we need to be prepositional leaders. We need to expand our reach directly and/or indirectly. We need to influence the HOW that drives the leadership philosophy across and beyond our team.
We all have a platform, an official charter, or an area of expertise. I submit that if we are truly interested in learning from, with, and through others, we have a responsibility to contribute through sharing. Why not create a blog? Why not share your unique vantage point as a leader in a discussion thread that is veering off course and misinforming the masses? Why not engage the target audience in their medium of choice? Why not make a genuine effort to connect, influence, and lead asynchronously, while evolving from a physically present leader to an omnipresent mentor?
I will tell any leader that an intentional online presence is a must in this day and age. I say intentional because a dormant presence is worse than no presence at all. Whether or not you share my advocacy for leveraging online media as an important part of a leaders toolbox, please ask yourself the following:
- Are you truly influencing your team?
- Is your leadership worthy of an expanded reach?
- Are you leading WITH your team?
Please consider how much better the team would be and how much more effective you would be as a leader if you shared, connected, and influenced beyond arms reach.