By Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator

We’re over 100 years removed from the assembly line and the industrial leadership mindset that came with it. That leadership model is best illustrated by the foreman in this classic Charlie Chaplin clip from Modern Times:

That micro-managing style of leadership, standing over the worker barking orders to “work faster” without regard to the worker’s welfare can still sadly be found in too many 21st century organizations. For those who are leading remote teams, however, this antiquated leadership style not only won’t work…it’s simply not possible.

You can’t micro-manage from a distance.

Well, you can try, but know that you’re setting yourself up for nothing but headaches. Long-distance leaders can’t hover over the desks of their employees, making sure they’re on task all the time. Unless you’ve got some sort of elaborate NSA-type surveillance system installed in each remote workplace, there’s simply no way for micro-managing leaders to keep tabs on their staff.

Not that you’d want to in the first place. Unlike the assembly line worker who was tied to the job by geography and limited options, the vast majority of remote workers today have a number of different avenues to offer their talents. Leaving your organization and joining another, even if it’s a lateral move, won’t involve a change in living arrangements, a different commute, or in some cases, even leaving close friends. Simply put, today’s remote workers don’t need to put up with being micro-managed.

And if you’re a project manager, you can add to that dynamic the fact that you might not even be the “real boss.” The remote worker you’re leading ultimately answers to someone besides you. Trying to hound them into better or more productive work just isn’t going to get you very far.

So what can a smart leader do in today’s “modern times”?

Make expectations clear.

From the start, make your expectations clear and unmistakeable. Talk about timelines, deadlines, modes of communication, what to do when there’s a delay in the project. When the leader and the remote employee are on the same page in these areas, there’s very little potential for friction. Most importantly, there’s a high probability that those expectations are going to be met and productive work will be done.

Create buy-in to a larger vision.

The assembly line mindset doesn’t encourage workers to think beyond their little piece of the project. They’re just told what to do as the parts pass by their work stations on their way to being completed somewhere else down the line.

Wise remote leaders will share their vision with their employees. By doing that, when difficulties do arise, there’s a foundation of “why we do this” and “where we’re going” to fall back on. This awareness of the bigger picture is also a great incentive for quality and productivity. When the employee understands how their part of the process impacts the whole team and the finished product, they’re much more likely to give their best efforts and meet important timelines.

You’re a guide, not a driver.

With respect to Jim Collins’ “bus driver” analogy from Good to Great, that’s still a fairly industrialized mindset, with the worker sitting passively in a seat while the leader drives. Remote leaders should take the role of a “guide” rather than a driver.

Your role as the leader of a remote team isn’t to push, pull, or drag people to the finish line. It’s to chart out a course and give them the support and resources they’ll need to get to the destination. To be clear, Collins metaphor is correct in that you need people who want to go where you’re going and their role in the journey must fit their skillset. But the sooner remote leaders get away from any kind of leadership model that involves them directing a passive team, the getter.

The ability to influence is important for any leader, but for those leading remote teams, it’s absolutely critical. There’s no other way to operate.

If you’re ready to make the transition to be a better leader in these “modern times,” consider our Remote Goal Setting and Accountability course. It’s just one part of the Remote Leadership Certificate Series.


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