Recently, Wayne Turmel sat down with Tom Crea on his podcast “Your Evolving Leadership Journey.” Wayne and Tom discussed a number of challenges facing remote teams and their leaders today. You can catch the full episode here


Tom: Wayne, you shared a story about NASA scientists who were asked which is more complex, rocket science or leadership? Tell us about that.

Wayne: We always say it’s not “rocket science” when we want to say something is easier than it looks.  In this case, the rocket science is actually easier in many ways. In science, if you plug the numbers in, you’re going to get the same answer every time. By contrast, if a leader treats person A and person B in exactly the same way and says the exact same thing to both people, you’re still not going to get a predictable result. Leaders aren’t dealing with inanimate objects that act the same way every time. They’re dealing with people, who can be unpredictable.

Tom: You addressed the importance of responsibility and servant leadership. What do you mean by the dark side of servant leadership?

Wayne: Servant leadership comes from a place of “it’s not about me, it’s about them.” It’s about the other people. And that’s a beautiful thing and it’s easy to look at the positive side. But one of the challenges is it ceases to be about us.

On the surface that sounds like a good thing, right? But it also means that we don’t always take care of ourselves. One of the traps that servant leaders fall into, and this is especially a problem for remote leaders, if you’re not taking care of yourself, leaders of remote teams are more prone to burn out and experience feelings of isolation.

Tom: Did you experience this yourself?

Wayne: Yes, I was leading a team of 20 some odd trainers around the world. Somebody was complaining about something I was asking them to do, and I said, “Well you know I’m not asking you to do anything I wouldn’t do.” She looked at me and said, “Yeah exactly what is it you wouldn’t do?”

I was doing all of these things because this was the job, and by golly, I’m going to do it. I was making unreasonable demands by not taking into account the specific needs and situations of my team members. I was projecting me onto them.

Tom: What’s the difference between remote leadership and virtual leadership. And, what’s a typical makeup of a remote team?

Wayne: Remote work basically means people are remote. The team exists, but Bob is in Dallas and Sally is in Denver. The reporting structures and other dynamics may be the same as traditional teams, just people happen to be in different locations.

Virtual teams are a complicating factor. Virtual teams are much more matrixed. Project teams, for example, are largely virtual. Here, you might be on my team, but I’m not your “real boss.” I may be leading the team, but you’re ultimately reporting to someone besides me.

One involves physical distance and one involves psychological and structural differences (as well as physical distances). There’s an assumption that either your people are remote or they’re not, and in fact that’s not the case. Over 70 percent of teams are what we call hybrids where you have some people who work remote either part time or full time, and some people who are in the office every day. That can play havoc with your team dynamics and the flow of information.


We’ll be looking at the rest of this interview in coming posts. You can catch the entire interview on Tom’s podcast site.

You can also get Wayne and Kevin’s book, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote LeadershipIt’s the definitive guide to becoming a successful remote leader.

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