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Virtual Leadership Secrets
From The Round Table For The Multi-Site

Author: Joclyn Kostner, Ph.D.
Copyright: ©1994
Publishers: Warner Books, Inc, NY, NY
Book Review by: Cathy Bernatt

Virtual Leadership Secrets

The purpose of Virtual Leadership is to provide a model of leadership and a set of key tools to assist the multi-site manager in overcoming the great challenge of leading across distance to create a winning team. Jim Smith is a project manager living in the year 2000, with a nagging question: "How do I pull the people on my worldwide project together into one cohesive partnership?" The answer he knew was to "...learn how to help the team bridge the geographic and interpersonal distance that separated the people." (Kostner, p. 9) After making a call at a payphone in the airport just prior to his flight, he finds an ancient looking coin in the return slot. On the plane, he rubs the coin, sees a flash of light, enters the bathroom to wash his face and when he looks in the mirror, he sees King Arthur of Camelot from the year 597 starring at him. The story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a powerful metaphor in which to bring out the lessons Jim needs to learn. King Arthur of Camelot serves as Jim's mentor and a model of leadership. The Knights of the Round Table represent the qualities and tools necessary for every leader to have and use.

To overcome the three enemies of the distant leader, geography, isolation and history, the leader needs trust. "...if you build trust, you are doing something...You are helping them to rely on their own talents, abilities, and perspectives... trusting them to tap into the power of control within themselves." (Kostner, p. 41) This trust is built through communication. To overcome the enemy of geography, bring all members of the team together to create a sense of unity. To overcome the enemy of isolation, provide ways that team members, despite distance can build trusting relationships. To overcome the enemy of history, create a shared future vision that all can believe in and help create. As King Arthur wisely tells Jim, "The magic is not in the sword." (Kostner, p. 35) The sword represents control and power. "It is what you create with people."(Kostner, p. 35)


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King Arthur's tells Jim, "...in life there are no boundaries other than those we set in our minds." (Kostner, p. 53) The Round Table metaphor brings up the importance of shared leadership and listening to all members of a team. In addition, in getting to know one another, and understanding one another's strengths, weaknesses, personal dreams and goals, a leader can enhance the power of a team by collaborating with each other to become better than any one member is alone. This was accomplished by the Joust in the legend where Knights came together to demonstrate their strengths and skills. Through hardship and challenge, they bond and form lasting relationships.

The Round Table's shape symbolizes a ring that binds people together and it is also symbolic of a circle of communication. King Arthur shares more wisdom when he tells Jim, "...if we want respect, first we must give respect. If we want trust, first we must give trust. If we want to be heard, first we must listen. If we want to speak, first we must let others speak." (Kostner, p. 69) A leader doesn't always need to speak first or have the last say. King Arthur makes Jim aware of the power of delegation in the same way that Jetro, Moses father-in-law, makes Moses aware of its power and importance. Jim believed that as a leader, he "...had to have all the answers." (Kostner, p.76) In the top-down management philosophy structure, that is the belief system of the top leaders. As more and more companies attempt to move to a more lateral structure of leadership, the power of delegation, trust, and open communication are essential. Under the old model, business was business. It was hard, callous and had no room for the "human element". With globalization, Jim's world will become the norm where leaders are distant from the people they are responsible for. King Arthur tells Jim that the real Camelot was not a building or any artificial structure. It is a place that, "...unleashes human potential to create something new and different and important together." (Kostner, p. 83) King Arthur believes what Greenleaf beliefs, that people want to serve others. They want to "...do something extraordinary together for the benefit of people and communities in every castle throughout the land." (Kostner, p. 85)

In order to create that, members of a team need to be connected on three levels. They need an emotional bond, an intellectual link and an alignment tool. The alignment tool is what guides all members to focus their energy on a shared mission and to know they are going in the same direction. That tool should be framed as a question so that it can be a guiding light to easily know if what we want to do is serving our agreed upon mission. For Robert Greenleaf that alignment question is, "...do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous..." (Barnes, p. 56) This is a mission. From the mission comes a vision and a clear direction. Clear roles and expectations must be communicated. There are four steps to creating a level of clarity necessary for all people regardless of distance. First, let people see it. Second, let them talk about it. Third, let them do it. Finally, have the other partner reflect it. (Kostner, p. 119) Without the alignment tool and the four steps of clarity, people get lost, targets are not met, goals not achieved. For goals to be achieved they first have to be clearly defined. Without it, evaluation and constructive feedback becomes impossible. Judgment and criticism enter the picture and destroy bonds, trust and respect. Once the alignment tool is defined, the emotional bond is formed through the sharing in creating something together. The intellectual link comes from accessing the skills and knowledge of each member to accomplish the defined goals and objectives.

One of the most difficult challenges for a distant leader is how to maintain the connection with all team members and not create a situation like King Arthur did with Lancelot. His friendship and dependence on him out of ease of closeness is a very dangerous trap to fall into as a leader. Making the extra effort, to include and bring those from afar in, to assist you in decision making will increase the respect, trust and feeling of inclusion. "For success, there has to be no suggestion of favoritism." (Kostner, p. 119) If conflict is not confronted head-on and if consistency to vision and mission are not expected from all, the result will be a rapid deterioration in trust and respect that will be hard to win back.

I think the principles of leadership presented in Virtual Leadership apply to all teams near or far. In beginning my new company, Creating...®, I am continuously thinking about so many of the aspects presented in this book. The importance of bonding through shared time together, open communication, listening to everyone, discovering one another's strengths and weaknesses, developing a shared mission and vision, clarifying objectives and expectations-all are required to build a strong, cohesive lasting team!

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