Conventional wisdom says: When more distance is between others and you, what you do has a less impact on them. In some ways that can be true, but in the most important ways for today’s leaders, it is exactly the opposite. When it comes to a leader’s behavior, distance magnifies everything. Here are three examples:
1. You’re the star. As a leader, you are in show business. Everything you do and how you behave is always being noticed by your people, and they do notice everything. There’s a saying that actions speak louder than words, and this really applies to leaders who lead from a distance. You are on stage all the time and, just as people tell stories about famous movie stars and what they say or hear about them, so do your people tell stories about what you do and how you behave.
In fact, the stories they tell about you travel faster and farther than any formal communications you could ever create. Stories have a magnifying impact, and often the impact grows stronger as the stories are repeated (and as those stories travel great distances).
2. Communications become more important. When you are leading at a distance, you often have fewer communications with your people, and this places an even higher level of importance on those few communications that you do have. What happens is that your people really have their antenna up, and are now paying even more attention to what you say and how you behave during those times they get to communicate or interact with you. Therefore, they are magnifying the impact of those communications and interactions, and magnifying the same impact, whether the communications and interactions were successful or not.
For example, if you were to get upset during one of those communications with your key people, and then not speak to them for a couple weeks, think about the impact that would have on them. They would naturally keep in mind that last interaction (and a bad one at that) with you, and maybe replay it and magnify it in their minds until the next opportunity came to communicate with you. In this way distance, or the lack of frequent contact, has your people magnifying your behavior in their minds. Now, if you were in the same location, and you then
met each other soon after that interaction at the coffee machine and shared a joke together, then that bad behavior would then probably stop being magnified and maybe even would no longer be a big issue. That contact you shared soon
after the negative exchange would smooth out their thinking about you and stop them from magnifying your bad behavior. On the other hand, without that shared joke at the coffee machine, that bad behavior would still be getting magnified.
3. Misunderstandings fill the void. Just as distance, or at least the gap between communications or interactions, drives your people to magnify their last communication or interaction with you, it can turn the lack of communication into a dangerous void. If you are not communicating frequently with your people, then they are taking their own perceptions of the business situation and magnifying that. Lack of communication always has your people magnifying their own perceptions rather than yours.
To prevent these problems, be the best you can be each and every day. Your behavior as the leader and your frequency of contact plays a big role in what your employees will magnify in their minds. The more they magnify the “right” thoughts, the more successful your leadership will be. However, remember that the opposite is true, too. If you offer up anything less than the best you can, then you are making a powerful, albeit a negative, impact to fill the void.
Keep your people magnifying the “right” things, magnifying the “right” thoughts in their minds, and telling the “right” stories about you. This will happen by bringing the “best you” to your leadership role each and every day.
(Mark Fritz is the author of “The Truth About Getting More Done” –FT Press)