Distant but United

By Giuseppe Cozzo

The historical period that we are all experiencing is unprecedented. We're facing a new challenge in many respects: it is a health, cultural and economic challenge at the same time.

Some habits of our daily living have changed rapidly. Habits that we thought could never change have actually changed. Some economic and social paradigms are also likely to change in the coming months and years. Some sectors might take different forms and shapes than they have historically had. There will be different spaces and competition will take place in different aspects.


We've all seen it. In a few weeks, we have "adapted" to smart working. But it's one thing to work remotely as an individual and another to be an active part of a team and/or to be its leader. It is a different concept from just carrying out activities using digital and/or computer tools. It is a broader concept and from various point of views more complex. Just think of the natural embarrassment that each of us may have felt in watching ourselves in a video with people we don't see very often. But those people today come into your house, they see your home environment. And you, who may not be used to public speaking, now you're often called upon to do it. While others listen. And they're watching you. And they are listening to you.


During these days I read again some pages of a study carried out by Mercuri Urval in collaboration with Ingolstadt Business School as far back as 2014, that involved a sample of more than 520 respondents in 18 countries around the world; the respondents target consisted of C Levels, CEO, Senior Manager and Middle Manager. Well, in this study, in years that now seem to belong to a previous geological era, as many as 85% of respondents stated that the "Virtual Leadership" would soon become one of the "core competences" of every manager. 81% of respondents also said that organizations capable of including "Virtual Leadership" in their own assets will have a competitive advantage in the years to come.


The virtual Leadership as early as 2014 did not seem to be a passing fad but more than a structural and transversal trend to organizations of different sizes. Not only reserved for large and complex multinational structured organizations, but also for the smaller and leaner realities. Indeed, for the smaller and leaner ones, having on board their organization team leaders able to operate and keep teams motivated at a distance, seemed to be a choice not only useful but recommended to lighten the cost structure.


Surely it may not be easy for many to manage teams at a distance and/or be a part of it. It is certainly more complex to manage the cultural diversity of the various team members, as well as it can be more complex to properly define and evaluate the workloads of individuals and/or the level of stress to which individuals are subjected. It's complicated for today's virtual leaders to ensure that individual processes, procedures, and "way of working" actually reflect business standards in terms of compliance.


In a "remote working" regime, each team member may have greater visibility and the operations could be accelerated with visible saving in terms of time and efficiency.


From that study on virtual leadership model skills such as communication skills, autonomy, flexibility, contact skills, planning skills, initiative and delegation seem to take on a greater weight than the traditional leadership model.


From that study the ideal "Virtual Leader" seems to be a proactive communicator who can establish contact easily, acts and decides independently, shows a high level of flexibility while he/she delegates and plans ahead effectively.


Years later and stronger than what we are experiencing today, I think this is only partially true. I saw a video that inspired me and what I have learned in these days and weeks is that yes "there is isolation but there does not have to be loneliness". These days the real distinguishing feature of the "virtual or non-virtual" leader is, in my opinion, empathy: the ability to understand the emotional state of the other. The ability to understand the emotional state of each team member.


It is obvious that this feature in a remote working regime may be even more complicated to exercise but it is now a differentiation mechanism. Sand a leader is ready and sensitive on this issue may be able to more easily engage others. What a fantastic aggregation mechanism is understanding emotions, fears and hopes. Today, perhaps for the first time in history, we are all in the same boat. It is not only a matter of empathy, of understanding the others' emotions but, often, is a matter of sharing the same emotions of the others. When will we all really feel the same way? Although distant, even if distant today team members can be united. More united than in the past.


In a kind of fantastic leadership that you can even propagate from below. I happened to feel, albeit in distance, closer to my colleagues these days than during some "normal" working days in the office. Easy you say. It's the crisis. During difficulties it is easier to join, it is easier for the leader to team up. Yes, it's true, but this advantage must be grasped. Team management if there is aggregation and sharing can also be facilitated because the greater the sense of self-responsibility and self-control of each.


In conclusion, I think that the period we are living in is a "stress test" for companies but it is also for the leaders who work in those companies. I think different paradigms will change and I think that even the leadership model traditionally understood can undergo changes opening more to aspects such as active listening, involvement, aggregation, empowerment and effective delegation. And I think that these characteristics will have to be translated into concrete actions even in a long-distance working regime.


I'm sure that those who are already leaders today and those who will be tomorrow they will have much to learn from this experience.