How To Maintain Credibility, Trust, & Respect as a Virtual Leader

Historic image of bombers dropping their payload

Fly-By Bombings: A Crime of Virtual and Distant Leaders

Many of us have experienced it before, but some of you virtual or distant leaders out there may have been the offender of such. I’m referring to a “fly-by bombing.”

This phrase conjures up plenty of imagery, and my definition will undoubtedly surface some strong emotions as well. A “fly-by bombing” is when a virtual or distant leader swoops into the workplace and splatters criticism, negativity, bad news, etc. all over the place.

Then, the leader quickly departs, leaving destruction of hope and moral in his or her path.  This phenomenon is common for offices who are subject to monthly or quarterly visits from regional leaders, teams with virtual leadership, and also leaders who travel extensively and don’t have much face-to-face time with their team. So why does this happen?

I don’t believe these “fly-by bombings” are done with the intent to hurt anyone, but rather the “bomber” is hoping to “fix things” during the small window of time that he or she has with the team.

Deep down, the leader simply wants to re-establish ground-rules, expectations, and motivate the team members. But when this desire comes in the form of a “fly-by bombing,” it is destructive to the team members and the team as a whole.

Once the air raid is complete, rather than feeling motivated to improve or to implement the messages the leader dropped, people focus on and spend their time repairing morale and trying to forget what happened. Every time these “fly-bys” happen, the leader loses more credibility, trust, and respect.

What can you do if you are an offender? To prevent future “fly-bys,” take the following suggestions into consideration.

  1. Change your mindset by viewing office visits as an opportunity to reinforce what is working right, realign team goals, and build upon relationships, rather than fix what is wrong.
  2. Use your time in the office to acknowledge the team and team members for the contributions they have made to the company. Consider giving public recognition or even rewards for a job well done.
  3. Arrive at the office in an upbeat mood, even if it is a little bit forced. Smile, greet people, and walk around the workplace. Your positive mood will have a positive effect on those around you.
  4. Rather than demand improvement or change, challenge your employees. Set goals and then follow up at future visits. Encourage experimentation and taking reasonable risk to develop employee skills.
  5. Spend some of your time at each visit connecting with employees. Offer to teach a new skill, review someone’s work, or give some encouragement. Take your lunch break with some of the team members. Have conversations that aren’t work related. These actions can help maintain the personal connection you need for when you are working with them from a distance.
  6. Focus on closing the gap between themselves and management by using your time with the team to clearly communicate expectations, vision, and strategy. Be transparent, answer questions, and help people understand how they can contribute to the business strategy at the individual level.
  7. If problems do need to be addressed, take the role of facilitator and make it a team effort to pinpoint the root causes of the problems, brainstorm solutions, and then discuss plans to implement the solutions. Remember, you are not present in the office or with the team all of the time. They have better insight into what is wrong and how to fix it than you do.

If you are a virtual and distant leader, make an effort to be a moral boosting, ethical leader focused on building relationships and trust with the team members you lead. By doing so, people will look forward to the time you are in the office and feel energized and enthusiastic to work after you have left.  Your efforts will also help to prevent “fly-by bombings” during your visits.

Your Turn:

Have you experienced a similar situation? Were you the offender or the offended? What suggestions would you add?


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About the Author

Cherissa Newton