by Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator

Fear of remote leadership

I have a phobia. I used to think it was a fear of heights, but that’s not really it. A few years ago, I figured out that my fear is actually of falling, not of high places. As long as I’m secure, like inside an airplane or enclosed in glass like in the observation deck of a skyscraper, height doesn’t really make me anxious. But put me next to a half railing or a ledge with only a chain or rope as a barrier, I’m terrified. Somehow, my mind is convinced that some big gust of wind or supernatural event is going to toss me over the side.

That’s irrational, I know, but the anxiety is very real. Still, despite that feeling, I’ve had to find ways to cope with my phobia. Otherwise I’d have missed out on some cool stuff like visiting Niagara Falls or The Grand Canyon.

How many leaders are missing out on the benefits of remote work forces because they fear leading remotely?

That’s not a crazy question. I firmly believe that some leaders are reticent to allow their teams to work remotely because of irrational fears they hold. Just like my phobia about falling, these fears lurk beneath the surface, and if not intentionally confronted, can inhibit your behavior to the point where you miss out on opportunities.

Ask yourself this question: Is your team doing what it’s supposed to be doing? How do you know?

If your answer is, “Well, I can see them working” then first I’d suggest that what you see isn’t necessarily what you’re getting. Unless you’re hovering like a hawk over each of your team members, you don’t know for sure whether they’re actually on task.

I realize that last statement may have sent some of you into a panic, but don’t. Understand that if you need to physically see your team at work to believe they’re working, you’ve got a bigger problem than productivity issues. You’ve got a trust problem. That’s a topic worthy of discussion in its own right (and Wayne and Kevin discuss it in this video). Just know that needing to physically see work getting done is a fear that can be overcome.

Similar to that, some leaders still subscribe to the “When the cat’s away, the mice will play” school of thought. Again, this is an irrational fear when you really look at it. Are you contending that those wonderful people you hired won’t do their work unless you’re physically watching them? See how that sounds?

Either you did a really poor job of hiring, or you’re acting on an irrational fear. In this case it’s not so much trust as much as it is control. But as Kevin points out here, control is kind of an illusion anyway most of the time. You should be aiming for influence instead.

But what about accountability?

I knew somebody would ask that question, and it’s a good one. Good leaders don’t just send their troops off with the hope that work will get done. Effective leadership means putting objective processes in place to ensure that work gets done. In this case, there are a host of tools you can use, whether your team works remotely or not, that can help you keep track of productivity and quality…you know, what really matters when it comes to work.

Another thing you can do as a leader is establish an ongoing conversation with your team members. Again, this is a good idea whether or not you’re working remotely; but for remote leaders, this is mission critical. Having a regular check-in call is a good way to gage progress without coming off as a micro-manger. These conversations can also be good coaching sessions. Are your team members completing tasks with plenty of room to spare? Enough that they could be contributing more or elsewhere? Or maybe they’re getting stuff done, but scraping the outer edges of their time and resources. If this is the case, they could be headed for burn out.

As you can see, the world of remote work isn’t really something that needs to be feared. If you’re a “hands on” type leader, it may require you to let go of the reins a little bit and trust your team, and it will definitely require you to be more intentional with your communication with your team. It shouldn’t, however, keep you from reaping the benefits of utilizing a remote workforce.

For the complete guide to leading remotely, check out Kevin and Wayne’s new book, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Leadership.

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