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The virtual leadership dilemma: transparency or protectionism?

On so many occasions when we scroll through the news, there’s a new viral video showing something going wrong in a virtual meeting, or being said that’s inappropriate. At times, these videos are presented in a light-hearted way, but some of these virtual meetings that have been shared online are exposing deep-rooted discriminatory behavior. Teams […]

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Photo by Hybrid via Unsplash
Photo by Hybrid via Unsplash

On so many occasions when we scroll through the news, there’s a new viral video showing something going wrong in a virtual meeting, or being said that’s inappropriate. At times, these videos are presented in a light-hearted way, but some of these virtual meetings that have been shared online are exposing deep-rooted discriminatory behavior. Teams are adapting continuously and changing approaches to leading virtually, but are there matching changes around prior poor leadership? This post is a conversation starter about the insider virtual view we now have and what it may mean going forward about leadership behaviors.

What are we seeing?

In a video leaked to the press, we saw the UK Chair of KPMG saying that unconscious bias was “crap” and that people needed to stop “moaning” about the coronavirus pandemic. He resigned soon after the video went viral. 

After a UK local government meeting was shared online, the clerk noted that “there is an element of bullying and bad behavior in local councils and a lot of us are working very hard, and that includes central government, to try and do something about that.” Also shared in the same article by The Guardian: “the councilors debated whether a recording of their discussions should be released” and one said, “I think if this goes viral … it’s going to start a war of words”. Is this exposing fear of transparency in the virtual world? 

Now more than ever we are getting an insider view into what is being said in meetings around the world, from large corporate town halls to smaller government meetings, in a way we never have before. Even though many companies had virtual platforms before the pandemic as a means of global communication, we are now seeing more staff participate in meetings using this medium. It seems that the sharing of videos is increasingly exposing existing poor leadership behaviors and unfair practices. But, how will organizations respond to this awareness?

Will people still find a way to say things behind closed doors?

As shared in this MIT article, “while videoconferencing and remote work arrangements have been gaining steady progress in recent years, many sensitive conversations or relationships in businesses are still typically handled in person”. Whilst private conversations will continue to have valid reasons, will this aspect of communication become the last bastion promoting unfair practices?

It makes me consider experiences so many of us have had, or stories we’ve read about, around private telephone or in-person conversations where rebuttal afterward is so difficult. Is it possible that these closed-door conversations might increase now as a means of perpetuating inappropriate decision-making, knowing that videos are being recorded?

Is this an opportunity for transformation in leadership?

I wonder how leaders will adapt over time to being in the spotlight? Do leaders have their guard up more or less right now?

Trust, transparency, and inclusivity are organizational imperatives. 

Do you think leaders will police themselves more in virtual meetings and then use telephone calls for the real conversations? 

I wonder how the drive towards more transparency in the virtual world could be an enabler of organizational transformation?

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