Why does leading remotely feel different? by @KevinEikenberry and @WTurmel


Why does leading remotely feel different? by @KevinEikenberry and @WTurmel

Excited to be hosting a guest post from Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel on my blog. They have co-authored a great new book together called The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. The authors’ “Three-O” Model refocuses leaders to think about outcomes, others, and ourselves–elements of leadership that remain unchanged, whether employees are down the hall or halfway around the world. By pairing it with the Remote Leadership Model, which emphasizes using technology as a tool and not a distraction, leaders can navigate the terrain of managing teams wherever they are. Filled with exercises that ensure projects stay on track, keep productivity and morale high, and build lasting relationships, this bookis the go-to guide for leading effectively, no matter where people work.

Why is leading a remote team harder than when everyone is in the same room? In most ways it’s not; but it sure feels like it is. That’s because the differences matter—a lot. In The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership, we set out to answer this seemingly simple question. Here’s what we learned.

What we have to do hasn’t really changed.

If you think about what leaders need to do, whether we’re project managers or team leads, it doesn’t change regardless of whether everyone is in the same room. Think of all the things we do to be effective: coaching, assigning resources, delegating tasks, managing performance… there’s nothing we have to do remotely that we don’t do leading co-located teams.

We need to coach, but that can be difficult when you can’t get face to face. Delegation still happens in a remote environment, but we have to be sure we’re being fair to everyone (not just giving tasks to the people in the office because they’re easily accessible). We also have to ensure everyone understands why they’re being given certain assignments. In other words, what we’re expected to do hasn’t changed much.

We can’t be as effective at a distance as we are in the same room. So what’s the problem?

The change is in how we do things. 

The difficulty for most of us with working remotely is that the ways we have learned to communicate most effectively aren’t available to us. We can’t just sit down with someone face to face and have a coaching conversation. When we do that in person, we can read body language, hear vocal tones and get all kinds of cues that make real communication happen. In a remote or virtual environment, there is a layer of technology between us and the other person. We send an email, instead of speaking on the phone. Maybe we talk on the phone rather than use the webcam, which denies us vital non-verbal information that might make or break that conversation.

There are all kinds of reasons for us not using tools effectively, and this is where effective leaders separate themselves.

  • Effective Long-Distance Leaders choose the right tool for the right job. When we’re struggling just to get our work done, it’s easy to default to the communication methods that are most convenient for us, or the ones we’re more comfortable with. Some managers believe that email is the simplest and fastest way to communicate, and over-rely on that. Others would rather wait until they can get face to face, and maybe don’t deliver feedback in as timely a manner as they should. Still others avoid conflict, and so choose methods that don’t require actually speaking to another person. In order to communicate as effectively as possible, we need to choose the right tool for the job at hand, even if it’s not personally comfortable for us, or requires us taking the time to learn a new tool effectively. We also have to choose tools that let us not only transmit information, but receive feedback in the richest, most effective manner possible.
  • Effective Long-Distance Leaders leverage the tools to get the most from them. Sloan/MIT studies have shown that while managers believe that technology is crucial to getting the job done, many leaders feel that they don’t use them well, and aren’t as comfortable with the tools at their disposal. If you have tools but don’t use them, you’re working with a serious handicap.
  • Effective Long=Distance Leaders work with their teams to set expectations and etiquette. One of the biggest challenges for Long-Distance Leaders is feeling like there are no rules to communication, that everyone on the team is doing their own thing, and that they’re just making it up as they go. Establishing communication norms )how often you’ll communicate, and through which media) goes a long way to building confidence and eliminating some of that discomfort and self-doubt.


So when it feels like you’re struggling to lead your remote team or project, take a step back and start with recognizing what leadership behaviors you should exhibit, then think about the best way to accomplish it. Mindfully applying the right tool to the right job will make you a more effective leader.

Kevin Eikenberry is founder and Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. He’s been named one of Inc.com’s Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World, and is the author of several books, including Remarkable Leadership.

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder (along with Kevin) of The Remote Leadership Institute and the author of many books, including ATD’s 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations.

Together, Kevin and Wayne have written the definitive guide for remote leaders, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.


Leave a ReplyCancel reply