Virtual Spaces: The ‘being’ of better global health management and leadership
More from our leadership and management folks over at MSH. By Sylvia Vriesendorp:
Leading and managing is not just about doing things differently by intentionally using the practices that we have identified for managing and leading. There is also a ‘being’ element involved. One of the things we have discovered as we implement our programs that shifts are taking place in the way people are and in their perspective on their work. We have called these “leader shifts.’
We have observed five shifts:
1. A shift from a focus on the lone heroic leader who will save us and solve our problems to the power of collaborative action that is fueled by commitment and a personal stake in success.
2. A shift from pessimism, despair and cynicism to a sense of hope, possibility and optimism.
3. A shift from blaming others to identifying challenges and taking personal responsibility to tackle them, one at a time.
4. A shift from intense busy-ness and multiple streams of activities by different groups and people that do not add up to significant positive change to coherent action by multiple parties that is driven by a shared purpose.
5. A shift from a focus on self and one’s own comfort and well-being to generosity and a concern for the greater good.
These shifts are not permanent, once made. Each time we find ourselves in a corner or a bad place, we tend to shift back to the left side: waiting for someone to save us, pessimism, blaming others or other things for our situation, incoherent action, if any and a focus on our own needs. It takes awareness and focus to shift back to the right column.
So a critical question in enabling and developing leadership is what tools might be available to do so. One are we have explored is support in a virtual space, as such we can reframe the question to this – Can we develop leadership in virtual space?
Yes, we can! When I was first asked this question I did not think this was possible. I emphasized the personal connections in face to face training events, the intimacy that is developed, and the interpersonal relationships that were so important for learning. The internet and virtual space as a classroom seemed cold and devoid of opportunities for bonding and affective content. Nevertheless I agreed to be trained as a virtual leadership developer. During the short training I began to see that I might have been wrong in my original conclusions. When the morning arrived when my course was live for the first time I remember logging on at 5 AM (East Coast American time) in the morning (the participants were in Africa and deep into the work day) I noticed a sharing going on in the site’s chat room that warmed my heart: the participants were exchanges personal stories with each other as if they were in a classroom together and the place is abuzz with voices. It was then that I became convinced that both the ‘doing’ and ‘being’ shifts we are after can occur just as well in virtual space. Now 23 courses later, which have been conducted in 5 different languages, including in Arabic with staff from the Iraqi ministry of health, no one needs convincing when they read the responses from participants in the final evaluation, when they write they have been utterly transformed by the experience. My heart is still warm after all these years!