The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership

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As many as a third of leaders lead at a distance, and the number is rising. Internationally recognized leadership guru Kevin Eikenberry (Remarkable Leadership book and podcast) teams with his Remote Leadership Institute co-founder Wayne Turmel to chart all the ways that remote leadership differs from leading in-person.

Book Summary - The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership by Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel

Key Insights

More than 90% of project teams include one or more remote workers according to the Project Management Institute. More than 80% of managers supervise at least one remote employee. The Long-Distance Leader discusses the new challenges distance leaders face, and the principles of leadership that remain relevant regardless of location. Eikenberry and Turmel break down their research into 19 rules for distance leaders. The most important rule is that leadership matters more than location - a good leader can manage a team anywhere using the right techniques.

Key Points

Rule 1: Leadership matters more than location

Distance leadership was rare in the past, but in today’s business world a huge percentage of the workforce is remote. This new remote workforce offers new challenges for management, but the most important principle for distance leaders to remember is that good leadership is more important than location. Managers worry about how their employees spend their days working remotely, but with good leadership principles in place, you can build a successful team with employees in every corner of the globe.

Rule 2: Remote leadership requires its own set of skills

In the past, good leadership was all about clear communication, eye contact, listening skills, and team building. While these skills are still valuable, as a remote leader face-to-face communication is not nearly as important as written communication skills. For distance leaders, it is vital to communicate nuanced ideas via email and instant message. Distance leaders should also know how to embrace technology to build teams using meeting software and messaging apps.

Rule 3: Don’t forget the value of interpersonal connection

If your teams never meet face-to-face, it is easy to have a strained working relationship. Distance leaders know the value of interpersonal connection among team members and find ways to build connection using technology and warm written communication. Maintaining positive relationships among team members and with employees is a vital part of the distance manager’s role.

Rule 4: Take advantage of tools

The Remote Leadership Model offers three important elements for distance leaders, and two of them revolve around using tools effectively. The first element is building interpersonal bonds and encouraging personal growth. The second is using all technology at your disposal to make communication seamless and efficient. And the third is building the skills necessary to embrace new technology as it emerges.

Rule 5: Follow the Three “O” Model

The Three “O” Model examines leadership through three lenses - others, outcomes, and ourselves. Using this model, leaders focus on measuring outcomes to ensure success, supporting others so the team becomes your primary tool, and remembering to take accountability for ourselves and the actions of the team.

Rule 6: Balance individual goals with organizational targets

Remote workers will often focus more on their individual goals than team targets. Some workers may not have a clear sense of the overall aim of their team or organization. As a remote leader, it is important to connect each employee with perspective on the team’s objectives, and how they fit into the overall framework of the organization.

Rule 7: Don’t just set goals, achieve them

As a remote leader, it is important to focus not only on setting goals but planning and executing them. Set a time frame for each employee for each goal, and communicate those goals to your team. Having each goal broken into measurable parts makes it easier to determine your rate of success.

Rule 8: Coaching means having a conversation, not giving a lecture

A good coach listens to employees and engages with them in a conversation. As a remote leader, it can be easy to send demands and talk more than you listen. But supporting your remote workforce means providing regular feedback, coaching them in their process, and listening to their needs. You should always assume your workers have good intentions, even if they make a mistake.

Rule 9: Understand your employees’ work styles

Each remote employee is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all method for communication. It’s important to understand your employees’ work styles and ideal forms of communication to best manage your team. One employee might want frequent check-ins, while another might prefer to reach out to you with questions as they arise. Treat each employee as an individual, and work to meet their communication needs.

Rule 10: Think like your employees

Though employees don’t want to play office politics, in every organization there is an inherent power structure that employees will interpret and understand. These power structures can be even more intimidating in a remote environment. Being transparent about power in your organization and ensuring that employees know their value and place within the organization’s mission is vital when building your team.

Rule 11: Trust is vital to business success

Building trust with your remote employees doesn’t happen naturally. Distance leaders have to be strategic about building trust. Using meetings strategically and publicly delegating tasks can build trust, as can minimizing conflicts between colleagues and planning team-building exercises. It’s also important to trust that your employees are doing their work and achieving their goals. Studies show remote employees do just as much work as on-site workers - they can even be more productive.

Rule 12: Understand and utilize communication tools

As the project manager, it is your job to know what technology is at your disposal and choose the best tools for your team. Communication among remote workers is one of the biggest challenges for distance leaders, so reducing communication and facilitating connection with technology is vital to your team’s success.

Rule 13: Use each tool to its highest capacity

Because technology is a vital part of keeping your team together, one of your roles as a leader should be staying on top of new technological advancements in meeting platforms, messaging, and other communication tools. File storage tools are also changing constantly and important for a remote workforce.

Rule 14: Don’t be afraid of feedback

As a leader, your success is your team’s success. Don’t be afraid to ask for honest, objective feedback from people who can provide it. Rather than expecting feedback to come from one conversation, like an annual review, look for periodic check-ins both within your organization and from outside consultants.

Rule 15: Speak kindly to yourself

Managing any team can be stressful, and managing a remote team can be particularly alienating. As a leader, you should learn how to strike a balance between positive self-talk and challenging your own beliefs. Think about the Ancient Roman auriga, who stood behind the emperor and reminded him in a whisper that he is only a man. Be humble, but speak positively to yourself. If you are telling yourself you can’t do it, your team will never succeed.

Rule 16: You can’t do it all

Some rules of leadership are true whether your workers are remote or not. One of those is that you can’t do it all. Delegating tasks is essential, and you manage your team well enough that you can take a break when you need without the world crumbling down around you. Focus on work-life balance. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, no one can take care of your team.

Rule 17: Time management is choice management

Your time is limited, and you can only do so much. Make time for exercise, your family, and your personal life. At work, make your choices count so that you don’t waste your important time with tasks that someone else could take on. You should also make time for your own personal development. As a coach and leader, your development is connected to your team’s ability to succeed.

Rule 18: Prepare the next generation of leaders

As you learn how to become the best distance leader, be sure to think about the next generation of management. What might your work environment look like in five, ten, or twenty years? Is your organization committed to training new leadership? As a coach, think about how you are training members of your team to become the new distance leaders.

Rule 19: Never forget Rule 1

Leadership matters more than distance. If you are a good leader, you can manage a remote team. Whether your workers are five or five thousand miles apart, you can build strong interpersonal relationships, secure trust, and meet organizational and personal objectives.

The Main Take-away

The Long-Distance Leader offers 19 rules for remote leadership centered on the idea that leadership is more important than location.

While the book hits on some familiar leadership principles, like the value of trust and the importance of communication, it also discusses the unique challenges that distance leaders face. The primary argument of the book is that remote workers and on-site employees are equal in value. With the right tools and technology, you can create a collaborative and efficient workforce regardless of distance.

About the Author

Kevin Eikenberry is a writer, speaker, and corporate trainer. He runs the Kevin Eikenberry Group, which, a leadership and learning consultancy company. He is an Outstanding Alumnus of Purdue University, and two-time best-selling author.

Wayne Turmel is the author of nine books and co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute. He is fascinated by the ways that people communicate at work. He is also the author of Meet Like You Mean It and 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations. He has a podcast called The Cranky Middle Manager Show.

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