voices in head

It’s not unusual for Long-Distance Leaders to spend a lot of time alone. Now that you no longer share an office with anyone, your actual human conversations have likely diminished. That means the voices in your head might be the most common voices you hear. No, you’re not crazy. We all have those voices guiding us and helping us process questions and find solutions. It’s normal…but it can also be a little problematic.

The challenge isn’t in hearing voices; it’s having the right voices speaking and being able to assess their impact on our work. The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership is founded on the “3-O Model”: Outcomes, Others and Ourselves. One of the keys to helping ourselves be accountable and productive is getting the right input. That’s where those voices come into play.

Here are some of those voices we listen to—or should.

Your own voice

Your own voice is important but not to be taken at face value. When it comes to internal monologues, many of us spend too  much time listening to our own voices. In some cases, we think that voice is brilliant and it talks us into rash decisions. In other cases, that voice is hyper-critical and negative, leading to analysis paralysis and constant second-guessing. Listen to your own self-talk. If your head is telling you things you’d never say to another person, you’re probably in a negative cycle and need better input. If everything you come up with is brilliant, you’re in danger of becoming a flaming narcissist and should probably get a second opinion. Really, that’s the point. Get a second opinion to check your facts and assumptions.

Voices of bosses and mentors past

These may not be as useful as you think. If you’re lucky enough to have had great bosses or mentors in your career, you sometimes hear their words, encouragement and guidance in your head. That’s great. If you’re old enough, though, some of those best practices may not be practical in the age of webcams, email and SharePoint. “Management by walking around” is a great idea, but it’s a long walk to Bangalore. How will you apply those lessons today, with this team?

Right voices and close voices

When we seek input, is it from the right people, or only the nearest ones? Particularly for those of us who are extroverts, we will actively seek out input from others. That’s great. The tendency, especially if you work with a hybrid time where some are in the office and others are scattered to the wind, is to have those conversations with those who are within arms’ reach. This can lead to the perception that you care more about the opinion of the people in the office than you do your remote teleworkers or those in other locations.

Voices above and voices below

Left to our own devices, we tend to listen to those above us, more than those who report up to us. Don’t take this personally, but for all your aspirations to be a great servant leader, you are still employed, and have people to answer to. Very often, most of our communication and information comes from our bosses or the organization at large. It’s easy when making decisions to have everything be about the company, the team and making your boss happy. If that’s what guides your decision making, you may not take into account the voices of those most impacted by your decisions. Being seen as always taking the company’s side, or repeating messages without really talking to your reports will damage team morale and trust over time.

Influencing voices

Ask yourself: who’s the canary in your coal mine? Every team has that person who may not have power or a title, but is an influencer and always seems to know what’s going on. Maybe it’s the long-time staffer who knows where the bodies are buried, or the social butterfly who hears all the latest news and gossip before anyone else. These may not be your favorite people, or even the ones you trust the most, but they are good sources of information that you should include in your calculations. How do people feel about your decision? What will be the impact on morale? Do they understand your logic? Adding these voices to the chorus will help you communicate much more effectively across the team.

Here’s the thing. Many of these voices already take up space in your head. Don’t ignore them, but don’t just accept what they tell you at face value. Ask yourself, is what I’m thinking true? How do I know? Who else should I hear from before making a decision or hitting “send?”

Leading remotely can get pretty lonely sometimes. Make sure you’re having regular productive conversations with those voices in your head.


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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