Managing has never been an easy task.
Leading is even more complex.
Everyone agrees that to be a good manager you need a certain set of skills and to be a leader you need much more.
A lucrative industry was developed around those skills – or how to acquire them if you were not born a natural leader.
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Common sense, self-development and training industry gurus agree - a leader needs to master a set of competencies to perform properly:
To master these competencies not all are training.
A lot are skill.
Take for instance delegation. Can someone be trained to delegate, to trust that people can make the right decision all by themselves without the need to refer to their management?
Or can training give them only the tools to handle delegation properly, while the mindset necessary for delegation to work cannot be taught?
In other words, all agree that you can be trained to be a manager.
Can you be trained to be a leader?
Things become much more difficult and challenging when the team to manage is not local but remote.
‘Managing’ teams spread over a large territory complexifies even more the management vs. leader equation.
Of course, the manager vs. leader opposition remains the same.
Nevertheless, the levels of technicality and skills required to succeed increase, as everything becomes more complicated:
You cannot anymore pop up in someone office to talk to them, nor meet them around the coffee machine – they are far from you, even sometimes in different time zones; you do not have direct access to them anymore.
All that you know and learned have to be rethought, put under new perspective.
Take what you know and extrapolate.
Everything is the same, but everything is different.
What is a minor issue that can be easily fixed when you work in the same building can become a major issue when you are miles apart.
You then need to rethink your leadership style.
There are five main specific areas that you need to review carefully.
You need to develop and implement a new communication pattern.
The usage of the latest technology might help, but it is in no way the answer to the issue – it is only a tool; poorly utilized (or set-up) and it becomes a joke to your colleagues and subordinates and you end up achieving exactly the opposite of what you wanted initially to get.
In order to efficiently communicate remotely, you must first have developed strong bonds in the ‘real world’ with your key contacts – those who will be your local relays with the local teams.
Keep in mind that it is not the same delivering a speech in person to a large assembly and conducting a successful Webinar; the tools and ‘tricks’ are entirely different.
The gap is the equivalent between running a meeting with close associates in the same room and doing it remotely.
To be a good ‘remote’ leader, you need more than training – you need to be educated.
Of course, part of it is training (learning some does and don’ts, as well as understanding how to master a couple of useful technics), but there is more to it.
You need to learn to think and reason differently. Whatever is obvious to you in the ‘world nearby’ is now different in the ‘remote world’.
If you know how to think-out-of-the-box and are able to adapt and question yourself all the time, you should have no problem.
On the other hand, if you are good at reproducing a learned pattern but have problem adjusting to unforeseen circumstances, major challenges are ahead of you!
We mentioned it earlier:
You need to developed bonds with your key colleagues in order to succeed.
Through a good number of training sessions, or naturally if you are a ‘born leader’, you know how to read a room, and therefore you know how to adapt your speech, your body language and all to win your audience.
The A, B, C of team dynamic.
When you are in the other side of the world or simply of the country, this dynamic is gone – you cannot feel your audience anymore.
Or at least you cannot feel them the traditional way known since Aristotle!
You need to adapt to the technology used.
For instance, if you are on the phone, read the voice of your interlocutor; if you are in a videoconference, learn to read the body languages of those closest to the camera – they will reflect the general mood of the assembly.
On your side, exaggerate your body language – a subtle movement that will be unconsciously registered and understood by all when you are in the same room will be ignored remotely -; work also on your voice and speech accentuation.
More than ever, the company’s vision and the goals to achieve must be clearly understood and approved by all.
There are very few subtexts that can be understood by all in a remote communication exercise.
For your Webinar or videoconference to be a success, you need to have a pre-approved and well understood by all common grounds – vision and goals.
There is not such a thing as ‘one fits all’ when it comes to select the technological tool that you will be using to communicate remotely.
For instance, a phone call will be the closest thing to a one-to-one meeting in your office – if it can be videoed (à la Skype) it is even better.
On the other hand, a videoconference will be the closest thing to a staff gathering.
In any case, you need to pick carefully – and therefore properly understand – the various tools available to you so to be able to properly convey your message.
Take into account that sometimes a simple bulk Email addressed directly to each interlocutor can work better than a Webinar:
This is the tool used by Satya Nadella, Microsoft’ CEO, to explain his worldwide teams the group’ new vision and orientations few years back – this is how he won his teams to change totally their way of thinking and working; and apparently it worked!
He repeated the same exercise again and again, every time he thought it necessarily to explain why some difficult decisions were taken, and to reaffirm group's goals.
We already discussed in previous posts that being a manager and being a leader are two different things altogether.
In this article, we demonstrated that even the best leaders may not be the greatest performers if they need to manage their teams remotely.
Unfortunately for them, any growing company will have to face this challenge sooner or later: growing means conquering new markets.
Conquering new markets means pushing away more and more market boundaries, thus having more and more teams far away from what becomes then the head-office.
More and more teams to manage, to motivate, to develop.
We saw that to succeed, leaders and managers must change dramatically their thoughts processes, understand the usefulness and limits of communication tools, adapt to their new audience (we haven’t even tackled the all-important issues related to diversity) and much more.
Is training the answer?
If it helps to master tools and methods, it won’t be the solution for all.
Education is more likely to be the key of remote-leadership and remote-management challenges.
Unfortunately, training is easier to implement than educating, and many companies will favor the first against the latter.
To their own long-term loss.
Are you facing the challenges discussed in this article?
How is it going?