Take one for the team

As leaders we know we are expected to work at least as hard as the people we work with. That’s a given. But today we want to talk about costs of constantly sacrificing yourself. This is relevant to any leader, but when you lead remote teams, there are additional stressors and reasons managers wind up burning out by “taking one for the team.”

Ironically, those who take the role of leadership seriously are the most likely to suffer burnout and stress. Why are leaders of remote teams more likely to exhaust themselves than other managers?  That’s why in The Long-Distance Leader- Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership, we talk about the 3-O Model: Outcomes, Others and Ourselves.  Yes, the work comes first, along with the needs of your team and customers. But we can’t ignore ourselves or we risk not being at the top of our game and burning out.

Here are a few of the reasons remote leaders get exhausted and what we can do about them:

Time zones mean longer days for the boss.

When part of your team begins their day earlier than another it can complicate scheduling meetings and serving clients. Servant leaders often sacrifice their time to be available to team members no matter where they are. But it often means that the manager, in an effort to be available to all team members equally, can have a very long day.  Try setting boundaries around your time, letting the team know when you’re available and when you’re not. If you must be up late on a call for one person, don’t expect to be up early for the next one. Manage your time.

Team members often go to the manager rather than their teammates—and we let them.

One of the unintended consequences of having people who work alone is that they need contact with others. They have questions, concerns, and sometimes just need to talk. The first person they often turn to is their manager. After all, this is the person they most need to have a good relationship with if they want to keep their job. Often, they go to their leader first, instead of to their teammates.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize every remote team member is doing that, and the boss is suddenly overwhelmed. Be mindful of what type of communication and questions your’e receiving from your team. Are you the only person who can answer that question or provide that service? Delegate to other team members, and don’t be afraid to coach your team to talk to each other before coming to you. This feels like you’re shirking your responsibility, but is actually being intentional about team building.

If we don’t have explicit rules about communication, people will decide for themselves what’s appropriate. If you’re buried alive in cc:ed email, that’s why.

There are plenty of reasons people copy the boss on every email. Sometimes it’s to prove that they are working. Sometimes, it’s to document a discussion with another team member or customer, and sometimes it’s just habit. It’s important that you and your team have open, candid discussions about what’s appropriate, what you need to be kept in the loop, and what you don’t need to be brought in on. A simple solution is to have them put you in the address line of emails you are expected to respond to, and in the CC line if they are just keeping you in the loop. If you let someone else set the criteria, don’t be surprised if it means more work for you.

Your high expectations for yourself may be too high over time.

Good leaders pride themselves on not asking anything of their people that they wouldn’t do themselves. The question is, what are the limits of what you’ll do, and would you expect the same of your team? Give yourself a break. If you really can’t take on that additional assignment, or you’ve missed dinner four days in a row and need to reschedule that conference call, do it. When you’re overwhelmed, ask yourself: what would I tell an employee to do about this? Why am I any different?

Leadership is hard, and leading a remote team is more complicated, if not tougher yet. If you don’t stop and analyze what you’re doing and its effect on you, it’s easy to burn out and become less effective than you should be.

Taking one for the team is great, as long as you take care of yourself as well.



Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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