More than ten years ago before COVID-19, I recall most of my days (and nights) spent in the office working on ppt slides and having discussions with my VPs and directors. Occasionally when they wanted to work directly on the numbers or show me how something was done, they would come over and sit at my desk space, typing away at my computer while I stood and watched how it was done. It was a simple gesture — fixing a problem right when and where it was needed, in person. And that simple gesture didn’t only solve the problem (whether it was a glitch in the model or some formatting on powerpoint), it also demonstrated leadership right then and there.
Today this is very different. No more in-person consultations and discussions, no more live demonstrations. Everything is done over Zoom. No more personal touch. There’s a Chinese saying: “fighting the bull from across the mountain” (隔山打牛), which basically translates to trying to solve a problem from afar.
So right now, that’s how a lot of things are — both for businesses and down to the professionals working away at their desks (or from home). Clients and suppliers trying to deal with new normal of doing deals virtually without a handshake or sighting of the product. Employees and their line managers trying to make a project or a pitchbook work while being separated hundreds and thousands of kilometers, connected only by email or whatsapp / wechat. To take the challenge up a notch, imagine the difficulty of new joiners who may have never seen their bosses, co-workers and their office desks.
Leadership and management in a virtual world is extremely difficult. It’s difficult to show how things done. Difficult to foster camaraderie without a working lunch, chugging a few beers or simply just hanging out after work. Hard to show charisma and motivate others when you don’t (in this case, can’t) show up in person. Lots of things get lost in translation when you don’t see, don’t talk directly to the other party. Doing business across the front office to back office gets incredibly difficult.
Zoom calls can only do much in facilitating communication in a physically disconnected world. But in order to restore the current situation back to equilibrium or the good ol’ days, we’ll eventually need to be able to go out and travel, meet people and forge collective experiences together.
Originally published at https://www.kennyng.com on February 19, 2021.