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Virtual Distance: President Hultin delivers presentation on management in the digital age


President Jerry M. Hultin presented a keynote address to the nation’s inaugural conference on “Managing Virtual Distance” on Friday, November 16, 2007 in Anaheim California. Using his personal experiences as a naval officer in Vietnam and as President Bill Clinton’s Under Secretary of the Navy, President Hultin challenged the audience of executives to employ a new approach to the leadership of global teams—in so doing, they will gain substantial competitive advantage.

Conference organizers describe virtual distance as “the perceived distance between two or more individuals, groups or organizations, brought on by the persistent and widespread use of communications that are electronic versus face to face.”

Virtual distance can be felt by teams that work across the globe from each other who rarely, if ever, meet face to face. It can just as easily be felt by co-workers who sit a couple doors from each other but interact mainly through email.

Ill-managed virtual distance, according to conference organizers, “can have negative consequences to innovation, leadership, and corporate performance.”

President Hultin’s presentation, “Virtual Distance Under Stress: Lessons Learned When Your Life is on the Line,” draws on naval and military history to show how virtual distance doesn’t belong to the 21st Century alone. Flying flags at sea and tapping commands in Morse code are just two examples of how military leaders have learned to lead in life and death conflict using virtual tools and techniques.

While virtual distance management isn’t new, Hultin’s conclusion is that today’s version is different, and requires leaders to develop new skills. Today’s virtual managers need to:

  • lead with clarity and a softer touch,
  • know their objectives,
  • ensure their organizations know their objectives,
  • provide the right amount of information for the task, and
  • take control when needed, not all the time.

Well-managed virtual distance, according to Hultin’s presentation, results in leaders who can:

  • decide and act faster,
  • make decisions based on more data and greater cultural depth,
  • manage globally with ease,
  • simplify the complex, and
  • achieve valuable competitive advantage.

Other presenters at “Managing Virtual Distance” included representatives from Microsoft, Linden Labs, Johnson & Johnson, Stanford University, Baker & McKenzie and Sun Microsystems.