Desk with living plant

New York Times Garden writer Leslie Land describes the seven essential habits of successful gardeners as:

  1. Make compost.
  2. Use compost.
  3. Plant crops in wide beds.
  4. Mulch.
  5. Feed the soil, not the plants.
  6. Share something.
  7. Be there.

Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the Mother Earth equivalent of successful virtual leadership: foundation, cultivation, space, nourishment, encouragement, and presence.

Once you’ve made these investments of effort, by setting clear expectations focused on results, you can reap what you’ve sown.

Being an effective leader is as much about putting together the right team as it is about achieving the necessary results from your team, whether the team is virtual or not. But the difference for a virtual leader is that when or where the work gets accomplished may be different from a traditional environment. So, as long as the results meet your clearly stated expectations, where and when the work happens shouldn’t be your top concern.

Here are some tips on how to set expectations and focus on results with your team:

1. Provide Feedback

Effective feedback increases insight and motivates action. The goal of feedback is to help employees gain relevant information to sustain their development. Provide feedback immediately, directly, and specifically. Then confirm that your message was understood. Because tone of voice and intention do not easily translate to email, providing difficult feedback in a virtual team is best handled via phone or video conferencing. Clear and consistent accountability and performance measures are important.

2. Celebrate Success

Focusing on results isn’t just about being a taskmaster until project completion. An effective leader also celebrates a team’s successes and gives recognition for good performance. Remember that sometimes virtual team members feel “unseen” by the organization. Often a simple acknowledgement can go a long way.

3. Be Flexible

Flexibility is key in a virtual environment, from work hours to work tasks. Research indicates that virtual team members often work long and odd hours to finish tasks. But make sure you’re focused on the results, not the hours.

Help your team members maintain a good work-life balance. For instance, shuffle team members’ responsibilities when one needs a change of pace or there is an opportunity to utilize another member’s strengths.

As team leader, you’re the glue that holds the team together. You’re the central conduit for everything they need, from access to information to clarifying an employee’s role.

As we’ve discussed over this Virtual Leadership series, being a successful virtual leader means:

  • Practicing effective interpersonal skills
  • Building relationships and fostering trust
  • Establishing a shared goal and encouraging others to work toward it
  • Providing a means for and encouraging collaboration
  • Setting clear expectations focused on results

As you discover how to synthesize the above characteristics into your leadership style, you will:

  • Improve your effectiveness as a virtual leader
  • Build cohesive virtual teams
  • Support the productivity of your virtual team

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says: “The best fertilizer for the garden is the gardener’s shadow.” It’s the continual presence of an attentive gardener that truly ensures a garden’s success. Consider your virtual team your garden.

P.S. If you missed the other posts from our Virtual Leadership series, you can find them here.

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