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Virtual Leadership Development: 
how to master the new normal

Virtual Leadership Development: how to master the new normal

By Philip Botha, Bernhard Zimmermann
In the series we share our experience and expertise as coaches and facilitators, focusing on leadership and leadership development in virtual or online contexts. We explore not only the inherent challenges we face in these environments but importantly, how to address these challenges yourself.
Whether you are a coach or facilitator, a leader looking for ideas or solutions or just a team member wanting to make a difference, we will offer our experience, thoughts, tips and suggestions of how to approach this, as we dive deeper into the specific key areas.
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27 How to Manage the Tech part 2

Virtual Leadership Development: how to master the new normal

29 How to leverage Interpersonal Skills: Supporting
What does supporting mean as an interpersonal skill in Virtual Collaboration? How well do your team members support each other in your virtual meetings? This is the topic of our conversation in episode 29 of our Virtual Leadership Development series. As we’ve said previously, we enjoy working with Human Synergistics’ Survival Simulation - Team Building series. In our experience, their Problem Solving model is great not only for solving problems but also in helping us improve how we communicate and collaborate in virtual sessions. In this episode we focus on the second skill - supporting - of four interpersonal skills: listening, supporting, differing and participating, to create greater acceptance. How do we support others in a way that everyone is able to engage with each other equally in a conversation? So often meetings are dominated by one or more participants while others contribute little. Effectively, this robs the team of valuable contributions that may have led to more diversity and better solutions. A principle of supporting from our perspective is that as leaders or facilitators of a session we need to take responsibility to create a space where everyone is able to contribute equally and support each other to do so. So what are examples of what wouldn’t like to see in a virtual session? Participants focusing on what is wrong with an idea. To focus on what’s at fault with an idea, or find problems with it, is very seldom motivating. The less interest we have in what others say while defending our own opinion, the less we are able to connect and engage. Conversely, if we apply Supporting, what should we be able to observe? We would see participants acknowledge what ‘works’ in others' ideas and find the positive aspects to help make them even better for everyone. Help others to express their ideas fully by being curious and creating a space where they feel empowered to contribute fully. Often a great contribution to a conversation could be a simple question, like 'what does that mean for you?' or 'tell me more?'
January 28, 2022
28 How to leverage Interpersonal Skills: Listening
Want to boost the effectiveness of your virtual communications? In episode 28 of our Virtual Leadership Development series - How to leverage Interpersonal Skills, we do a deep dive into the interpersonal skills we can leverage to achieve this.  We are big fans of Human Synergistics’ Survival Simulation - Team Building series. One of the models used in the series Problem Solving is excellent for building problem-solving skills in Teams. However, working again with this recently, we discovered that the Interpersonal Skills defined in this model become even more relevant in helping us improve how we communicate and collaborate in virtual sessions. In short, the model focuses on four critical interpersonal skills: Listening, Supporting, Differing and Participating, to create greater acceptance. We have already spoken at length about what we defined as Conscious Listening, and in this episode, we thought it worthwhile to take another look at it from the model's perspective. In this and the next three episodes in this series, we explore each skill from 2 perspectives, firstly the behaviour we observe in how we show up using the skill and secondly, the process we use in applying the skill. To make it even more practical, we also distinguish the behaviours in terms of what we want to see and what we would not like to see. As an example of the latter, we don’t like seeing people interrupting each other and having more than one conversation at a time, which online leads nowhere very fast.
January 07, 2022
27 How to Manage the Tech part 2
What impact do your choices about Tech issues have on your Virtual meetings? In our 27th episode of Virtual Leadership Development - How to Manage the Tech, we focus on how connectivity and devices impact our connection on an interpersonal or relationship level and how we can approach this constructively. We have all faced connectivity issues as result of problems with ethernet, WiFi, bandwidth or mobile connections. What impact do these connectivity issues have on our connection with others, how can we influence or deal with these issues? We discuss these from a practical perspective and one of the simple suggestions we have is that, it is all dependent on preparation. You can never be too prepared! Our second topic in this episode covers devices. Again it is really important to understand how the choices we make about devices have an impact our connection. We run through quite a few topics that, from our observation, people often ignore, moving beyond choices about desktops or laptops to, for example, the important impact that cameras, lighting, microphones and backgrounds have on the quality of engagement we have in virtual surroundings. The final responsibility for tech choices and decisions lie with each participant. However, it is our responsibility as moderator or leader to influence these so that we create the best environment for connection to happen.
October 11, 2021
26 How to Manage the Tech
How do you manage Tech in Virtual Meetings? So often the start of a virtual session is delayed or even undermined by tech issues. In our 26th and 27th episode we focus on how to manage and approach this. Topics we discuss include, how to rethink what happens in a room, in order to transfer it into a virtual setting. For example, how to replace standard elements we often use in a workshop, like flip charts and post-its, with virtual tools. The essence of this means really understanding the process and dynamics of what happens in a room, in order to recreate something similar online, and not just trying to do the same thing. Today there are many different software and platform choices available, how do we choose which to use? Or, often we have no choice, which could create a problem, as all platforms are not necessary equal in creating a space for people to really connect and interact. It is therefore important to not only understand the advantages of the different platforms, but also their disadvantages, as sometimes we are forced to use them, and need to overcome these. Not only team leaders or facilitators are faced with tech issues, participants in these sessions too. We need to make these easier for them to overcome, in order to have a successful interaction.
August 27, 2021
25 How to Deal with Zoom Fatigue part 2
What can you do about Zoom Fatigue? Zoom fatigue is described as the sense of being totally exhausted after a series of online meetings. In our previous episode we focused on the first two causes, and in this episode we explore causes 3 and 4 . The third cause of Zoom fatigue encompasses constantly seeing yourself during video chats in real-time. Add to this also a self-critical attitude about self-appearance that is quite common. Some people are even hypercritical of their own image, without realising it, especially their mirror-image, which is how they see themselves every day. This can be very stressful and distracting during online meetings. Interestingly the research shows a major difference between men and women regarding this. Also, for example, introverts experience stronger Zoom fatigue symptoms than extroverts. We also explore our own suggestions about to deal with this. The last cause considers that our cognitive load is much higher in virtual communication, where we have to work much harder to send and receive signals. Also, add the fact that we are focused on a matrix of video panels in front of us where we try to ‘read’ all of them simultaneously, instead of, like in real life, choosing to look around us, on where and what we want to focus on. And even though each panel image is small, this still puts us within each other's personal space, only adding to our sense of vulnerability. We also explore what can we do ourselves, to make it less tiring for other people, by taking responsibility for how we show up in a virtual call. Listen to our podcast to hear more, as well as our suggestions of how to minimise these in meetings.
August 13, 2021
24 How to deal with Zoom Fatigue part 1
Do you experience Zoom Fatigue?  How does Zoom Fatigue impact on your own virtual meetings? Zoom Fatigue can be described as the sense of being completely exhausted after a series of online meetings. This is no urban legend. Stanford University actually did two research studies on the subject (see links below). In this episode we focus on the first two causes. 1st cause: during an online meeting, we have a continuously focus on one screen containing a matrix of video panels. In a normal room setting, our gaze would drift around the table, or the room, from speaker to speaker. In this setting however, we have only one view with a dramatic increase in (attempted) eye contact. Researchers found that, very often the relative size we see people at in their individual panels is quite close up, which in normal life would put them within our personal space. Normally they say, we only experience this when mating or in conflict. In a business setting, we then subconsciously experience stress as if we were in a conflict situation, adding to our overall mental fatigue. In our discussion, we differ from the researchers on how to address the issues, as their recommendation - from our point of view - would lead to less connection and engagement during a virtual meeting. 2nd cause: in a series of online meetings, we are stuck in the same position for a prolonged period of time and our movement is limited in a way that is not natural for us. Studies long before the pandemic show that, the average sitting posture in an office chair limits the blood circulation and therefore also the oxygen supply to the brain. This depletes our energy faster and restricts our cognitive capacity and capability. So if you groan inwardly when you are next invited to yet another virtual meeting, think about it, that it's not just important to make meetings more energising and engaging, but also about reducing the factors that actively induce Zoom Fatigue. Listen to our podcast to hear more about this and also to hear our suggestions of how to minimise these in meetings.
July 30, 2021
23 How to build Engagement part 3
Curiosity is the fuel for connection and engagement… In part 3 we continue our discussion on how we, as leaders of a virtual workshop or meeting, can have a constructive impact on engagement. To consciously build engagement, we need to actively foster curiosity in others as the fuel for connection and engagement. Firstly, this depends on how we show up as role models of the behaviour we expect our participants to have. How we walk our talk, as that is the behaviour that people will eventually emulate.  Starting with listening and presence, if we lead or facilitate a meeting, we need to create and keep the space for people to be able to start and finish speaking their thoughts, as well as create the space for less talkative people to participate fully and contribute.  Secondly, what specific questions we ask and especially how we ask, directly influences curiosity. We cover for example, specific questions that can be used to help achieve this. Crucial is that we as facilitators need to effectively role model all the behaviours we expect from participants! Following up on contributions with deepening questions also helps to foster and deepen curiosity. When discussions become intense or defensive it is even more challenging to maintain the right level of curiosity instead of resorting to attack and defence. Finally, we focus is on the biggest biggest challenges we face to building real engagement - dealing with the elephant in the room - which we all, too often, prefer to ignore. It is just as important, but much more difficult to address than in a physical room, due to the challenges of virtual communication.
July 16, 2021
02 Virtual Leadership Development: Interview Part 2
The Recipe to bake your own Learning Nuggets… In our second podcast interview, we continue our conversation with Doris Henke, Head of Talent Management at BSH. A while ago, we became aware of a Linkedin post by Doris, about her experience in implementing insights from listening to our podcast, in her daily work. We were curious and thought that maybe we could also learn something from her, and the idea of an interview was born. In Part 2 we hear from her how she goes about integrating insights into her daily work life. She has some very practical suggestions we believe can inspire anyone to develop their own form of this, according to their own needs. To hear more insights from Doris, click on the link.
June 24, 2021
01 Virtual Leadership Development: Interview - Doris Henke Part 1
The Magic Starts with Connection… In our first podcast interview in this series, we talk to Doris Henke, Head of Talent Management at BSH. A while ago, we became aware of a Linkedin post by Doris, writing about her experience in implementing insights in her daily work, from listening to our podcast. We were curious and thought that maybe we could also learn something from her, and the idea of an interview was born. The interview was so rich, that we actually decided to dedicate 2 episodes to it. Part 1 focuses on her experience in implementing her insights and Part 2 on how she went about integrating insights into her daily work life. One element she found inspiring, was the insight that the magic really happens when connection starts. ‘My practical experience after integrating and implementing my insights, is that the results matched what I had heard while listening to the podcast’.
June 04, 2021
22 How to build Engagement part 2
How do you overcome engagement challenges in your online sessions? This episode continues how we, as leaders of a virtual workshop or meeting, can have a constructive impact on engagement. Firstly this of course depends on how we show up as role models of the behaviour we expect our participants to have. How we walk our talk, as that is the behaviour that people will eventually emulate. Secondly as we have commented before, how we ask questions and what specific questions we ask and how, again directly influences curiosity. We cover specific questions that can be used to help us in this instance. Our final focus is on one of our biggest challenges to building engagement - dealing with the elephant in the room - which we very often ignore.
May 28, 2021
21 How to build Engagement
Building engagement in a virtual context can be much more challenging than in a face to face situation. Not only do the technical issues make it more difficult, but the design and flow of the interaction, regardless of whether it’s a workshop or meeting is vital. Engagement needs to be built consciously and we cannot not just rely on it to happen by itself. In this episode our discussion focuses on what we can do to prepare for a meeting in terms of interaction, design and flow, to create one that is truly engaging. How to actively involve all the participants in the way the interaction is run, to ensure that everyone feels heard and that they have been able to contribute enough for them to buy into the focus and outcomes of the session.
May 21, 2021
20 How to Ask Questions
Asking open questions is an essential element of Conscious Listening, especially in a virtual setting. Most often, we ask closed questions, which very often makes life even more difficult. Two of the challenges that we face, especially online, when asking questions are the following: Time pressure - online everything takes longer and we feel pressured to close down responses instead of fostering real curiosity and opening them up. Silence - People don’t answer immediately and were left hanging in what we perceive as an embarrassing silence. How do we deal with these and other challenges, to ask questions that really build conscious listening? In this episode, we cover the issues that we have come across in our experience and explore some suggestions to solve them
May 11, 2021
19 The 4 Levels of Conscious Listening - Part 2
In episode 2 on Conscious Listening, we identify and discuss Level 3 and 4. With Level 3, we focus on what we call mind side-tracks. With this we mean all the thoughts, thought processes and reactions that occur and distract our attention while we are listening to Level 1 & 2. Ultimately, we often listen only to our own mind chatter and not to what others are really saying. In a virtual situation where we feel less connected than in a face to face situation, this is even stronger. The essential question is really, how to stay curious and actually use what distracts us, using curiosity in a constructive way to deepen the conversation. Listening at Level 4 encompasses meta ‘interruptions’. This could be our intuition kicking in with input from our subconscious. It could also be something else that we see or hear, happening in the physical world outside of the direct conversation. Again, we are able to use curiosity and use what distracts us, to deepen the conversation.
March 17, 2021
18 The 4 Levels of Conscious Listening - Part 1
In our discussion, going beyond Active Listening, we define the 4 levels of Conscious Listening. Often, listening is defined as consisting of 3 levels, but in our model we identify 4 levels or channels. Level 1 covers most of what is usually known as active listening. This essentially covers the words, content, message and meaning of what is being said and understood. Level 2 focuses on what transpires between the lines, in what is not said directly, during silences as well as through body language. We also cover specifically the challenges that we face when in a virtual context, as this is much more challenging to deal with than in a face to face situation, where our ability to really listen is already seldom great.
February 19, 2021
17 Managing Connection & Curiosity
In the 2nd episode on Conscious Listening we focus on how to manage our awareness in virtual situations, through better connection and curiosity, helping us to better understand what others are saying. In online conversations we face many more challenges than in face to face situations, and we talk through many of the variables we need to address, to be able to do this effectively. We conclude the episode with a conversation about how to actively listen in an online environment using the classic Active Listening technique: listening, feedback and confirmation of what was heard.
February 19, 2021
16 Curiosity & Conscious Listening
In the virtual world, listening becomes much more important because of all the additional - real or perceived - barriers we need to overcome. However, instead of listening more, we tend to listen less. We often listen to what we think others are saying, instead of concentrating and listening to what they actually say. Few people really even practice active listening in their day-to-day life despite being aware of the need for it. In our 16th episode, we go even further than just active listening. From our perspective, developing curiosity is the foundation for what we call conscious listening, and this needs to be actively developed and nurtured. Both curiosity and conscious listening start on the being-level, where we need to foster interest, that in turn can develop into curiosity. Crucial also, is creating a safe space for people to be able to speak freely,despite feeling vulnerable. This is the starting point for building a deep connection, so often missing in online interactions. On a practical level we actively need to bring people into a conversation, while at the same time, following our intuition and be able to listen at different levels. If we are able to do all of this, combined with the right questioning techniques, interaction amongst participants will need far less intervention from our side, as we would function more as a conductor in these conversations. Leading to a different kind of virtual conversation.
November 25, 2020
15 How to manage yourself: In the Moment
To manage ourselves in a virtual leadership development context, we need to take ownership for our attitude and emotions related to the challenges we face.  How do we show up? Where is our focus when things are not going to plan in a specific situation? The Player attitude enables us to focus on our ability to take responsibility and act, rather than blaming others. The Learner attitude opens the space for curiosity and is absolutely essential for effective listening. When disruptions happen, what capacity do we have to deal with the impact they have on us emotionally? How does this impact on others? When a participant shows up in a disruptive way? How do we deal with their disruptive behaviour. Emotionally reacting to unforeseen events is normal human behaviour. However, we need the mental capacity and awareness to accept these and deal with them constructively and not being overpowered by them. To keep calm when things are not working out as they should, is an essential role model or the participants. Making issues transparent and staying calm helps normalise them. They secret to interaction, is to keep the best possible connection to participants. Technology and its inherent challenges at best play a secondary role.  Be proactive not reactive! Own issues that show up as normal.
November 13, 2020
14 Rules of Engagement Part 3
We discuss the 7 key themes that always emerge in an RoE alignment conversation. These again, give rise or connect to every other topic or behaviour that is important to participants in a virtual interaction. Essentially, if we are able to align participants and their behaviour around these, we effectively establish psychological safety. The 7 are: Respect, which underlies almost all other behaviours Openness, which is the starting point for everything Trust, which in turn fosters collaboration Confidentiality, for example is really important in an online context as effectively participants allow others into their private environment Honesty, in a sense of being truthful in your interaction and behaviour Fairness, without a sense of fairness it is difficult to be open Listening, is key for online work so people feel to be heard and seen A specific circumstance or context requires additional topics that need to be explored through open questions and reflection on connected attitudes and behaviour Supporting participants to reflect on these helps them get clarity on their intention and purpose and enhances their commitment
November 06, 2020
13 Rules of Engagement RoE Part 2
Episode 13 continues our discussion on Rules of Engagement (RoE). We dive deeper into how the alignment process works and how to use this to create a solid foundation for safety, trust and collaboration. In online situations, this is even more important, as well as difficult, than in face to face situations, so that participants feel empowered and not subconsciously vulnerable, having to distance and protect themselves. We also focus on the impact of values and behaviours, touching on how to deal with, for example, disruptive behaviour, aligning participants behind constructive behaviour. RoE builds a really strong connection with participants helping them uncover what they deeply need, in order to be able to work together constructively and effectively, supporting them to create what is important for them.
November 02, 2020
12 Rules of Engagement ROE - Part 1
The 12th episode dives into the first part of Rules of Engagement (ROE). The essence of Rules of Engagement is to align on how we engage with each other, which in an online interaction is much more difficult to do than in face to face. The direct outcome of this alignment is the establishment of a circle of safety, which in turn lays the foundation for trust and in turn fosters collaboration.  Return on Engagement: If we are able to collaborate more and better when we engage online, we find a natural impact on results. In other words, we achieve a direct return on our 'investment in engagement'. In Rules of Engagement, the focus lies on the process, in helping participants understand and express, for themselves, what is important for them in how they want to show up and engage with each other during the virtual reaction.  It is not so much the specific topics, as the process that builds trust. This means that focusing only on the topics in a discussion will not have the same effect as using the process of alignment.  Therefore it is important to take sufficient time for this, and allow for depth in the conversation. This will allow for an understanding of both acceptable and unacceptable or disruptive behaviour to be aligned on. This particularly pays off in especially longer engagements.
October 23, 2020
11 Elements to own In the process - Part II
We continue in our 11th episode with part 2 of the elements we need to own in the process. Especially in a virtual context, where distractions are so tempting and easy for participants to drift off, providing a powerful hook and clear alignment with the purpose of the workshop or meeting has a direct positive impact on participants' motivation to engage with each other and the facilitator or leader and to stay engaged.  The final element also facilitates reflection and engagement. The ritual of Check In & Check Out is essential to lay the foundation for interaction and engagement.
October 13, 2020
10 Elements to own In the process Part I
In Episode 10 we dive deeper into part 1 of the elements of the virtual process we need to own - whether as a facilitator, or as the leader of a virtual interaction. One would consider the first element - preparation - as obvious. It is, however, it is still preparing as thoroughly as possible, as well as practising a virtual interaction, that makes it the key to success. Knowing the inevitable risk situations and playing them through is what makes it look easy in the end.   The other key element we cover in this episode to build success, is tbeing very observant of the participants and dynamics that unfold. Again,  observing interactions and everything that happens sounds very logical, yet again, it is even more important than it would be in a face to face situation, while at the same time, much more difficult because of the challenges of the virtual process. 
October 07, 2020
09 How to Own the Process- Overview
After spending a few episodes talking through the challenges we face, we are now moving from what these challenges are, to how to master them.  We explore practices & solutions and tips & ideas of what we can do, to actually address them, based on our own experiences of having to deal with them. In this episode, we want to give you a brief overview of the elements that help you own the virtual process. These we will cover in future episodes, so this episode will give you have a better understanding of what you can expect.  We talk about how to own the process and use Rules of engagement as a cornerstone for building trust in virtual interaction. In another element we cover how to manage yourself and explore how to consciously listen. Finally, we talk about how to manage technology, for it not to get in the way.
September 30, 2020
08 Task level Challenges: Technology Failure
The last episode on the challenges covers technology failure or disruption. A key element in this challenge revolves around our own mind chatter about potential disruptions. This then distracts us from the actual workshop that we are supposed to participate in, or alternatively facilitate.  The frustration that builds with a disruption in technology can also sidetrack us, and limit our attention span, ultimately distracting us from finding constructive solutions.  In addition, strong perfectionism, a way to cover our own inner insecurity, absorbs the rest of our capacity to deal with disruptions constructively.
September 25, 2020
07 Task level Challenges: Multitasking & Fear of Technology
In this episode we explore how multitasking as a BEHAVIOUR distracts us from constructively participating when collaborating online and what influences that behaviour in ourselves. In an online workshop, we not only lose our connection to the learning process but also have a less than positive impact on others’ learning experience.  We also talk about our fear of technology and our anxiety to use it. Which is mostly triggered by our own lack of familiarity with a tool, as well as not understanding the processes in using the technology well enough. Finally, we explore the challenges we face when we lack enough practice, which in turn nurtures our fear of technology.
September 18, 2020
06 Relationship Level Challenges
In episode 6 we cover firstly the challenge of excuses. Excuses can be found on the personal as well as on the relationship dimension, resulting from a mindset of blaming other things, people or technology. Other challenges on the Relationship Dimension or Level are, Not Listening and Multitasking. When the mind becomes disengaged, we lose the ability to listen fully, limiting our ability to actively participate. Another form of disengagement is mental multitasking when being distracted. For a facilitator, this is one of the most difficult challenges for a facilitator to deal with.
September 10, 2020
05 Personal Level Challenges: Lack of Intention
In episode 5 we dive into the challenge, Lack of Intention - when collaborating in a virtual space. We focus on six elements that all interact and build on each other. These are: having a lack of purpose and clarity results in a perceived lack of choice. This in turn is very often driven or influenced by a lack of curiosity. As result, we experience a lack of engagement and subsequently a lack of commitment to be able to collaborate effectively.
September 03, 2020
04 Personal Level Challenges: Vulnerability and Fear
In the 4th episode we dive deeper in the challenges that emanate from vulnerability and fear. Specifically, we talk about the mental barriers that are triggered through a lack of trust, the deep fears about ourselves and who we are, which very often trigger self-protection as a reaction. In addition, we cover self-limiting beliefs and the challenge we face of having to open ourselves up in an virtual environment in order to participate and benefit from the online interaction.
August 26, 2020
03 The Challenges of Virtual: Overview
In this overview episode we look at the challenges of virtual leadership from three perspectives or levels: the personal, the relationship and task level. We also touch on a few challenges to prepare for the deeper dive we do in later episodes. For example, we briefly explore topics such as, vulnerability and fear,  not listening & multi-tasking as well as fear of technology.
August 19, 2020
02 The Power of Virtual
In the 2nd episode we start with what everyone now calls the New Normal, in which virtual leadership needs to function effectively. The rest of this episode provides an overview of the elements that contribute to making a virtual session more powerful.
August 14, 2020
01 Setting the Scene
In episode 1, we cover the scope of the whole series, focusing on three key areas. We start with the powerful impact the online or virtual world offers leaders, then an overview of the challenges we face in this environment and finally close with an overview of how to overcome these challenges. An underlying structure of the whole series focusing on the three dimensions of effective work. The self, what happens in us with our motivations, intentions and mindsets, connecting it to the interpersonal or relationship level, and finally combining it with the tangible or task level.
August 07, 2020