Long distance leadership is a lot like dancing.

If long-distance leadership is a dance, then those of us who lead remote teams are far more like Ginger Rogers than Fred Astaire. Here’s what I mean.

If you’re lucky enough to have a strong woman in your life, you’ve probably heard the expression, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but in high heels and backwards.”  If you lead a team of people who are situated away from each other, you are doing everything that good traditional leaders (that’s Fred, in this example) do, but with an extra degree of difficulty. (High heels are optional.)

As we have pointed out for years at the Remote Leadership Institute and examine in-depth in The Long-Distance Leader-Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership, leading people from a distance is mostly the same as leading them from the same location. There are nuances that make it different and more complex. It can feel a bit like you’re doing the same dance, but off-balance and moving backwards.

When you feel frustrated with the communication on your team, or you’re unsure of exactly what’s happening, it’s important to take stock of what’s going on. What are the things you and your team want to happen (regardless of where everyone’s situated)? As a leader, what do you know you should be doing or saying? Once you understand what has to happen, you can then reverse-engineer those steps to allow for distance.

Maybe you’d rather meet face to face, but have to settle for a conference call. You’d love to have everyone in the same place at the same time to make this announcement, but  half your team is a world away, so recording a video announcement might have to do. The point is, once you’re clear on what has to happen, how it happens can be leveraged properly.

The first rule of Long-Distance Leadership is, “Think Leadership first, location second.” Learn the dance and be confident in what you’re doing. Then whether you’re going backwards, sideways, in person or virtual ceases to be such a big deal.

Ms. Rogers knew how to dance. She understood the steps and practiced over and over until her feet bled. Making it look that effortless required hours of hard, sweaty, grunt-work and a willingness to accept the role offered. If you’re looking for a metaphor for our lives as the leaders of remote project teams or functional groups, it’s not hard to find.

What are the basic steps that you, as an effective leader, need to know in order to help your team thrive? What are the factors in among your team that will make that more complicated (or at least different?) How can you use technology to help bridge those gaps and overcome the challenges?

Now, dance up a storm.



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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