In all the talk about hybrid work and RTO (Returning To Office for those of us who are acronym-intolerant),  it’s easy to stress out. Let me remind you of a very simple rule to help guide your thinking.

In The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership, we have 18 (sort of 19) rules for leading at a distance. But whether all of your people are remote, only some of them are remote, and more of them are only remote Tuesdays and Thursdays, one thing remains the same. Are you ready? 

Think Leadership first, location second.

That sounds glib, but consider what that means. In our work over the years with managers we have learned something really important. Good leaders might struggle with remote reports, but at heart they know what they should do, just how to do it can seem daunting. But if someone is a poor, or at least an unmindful, leader, the challenges of being apart can lead to some pretty awful behavior.

A good long-distance leader will still know to coach their people, and will want to do it as richly as possible. That might mean not being able to get together, which is preferable, but at least a good one-on-one webcam conversation comes close. On the other hand, if coaching isn’t in your skillset, how much easier is it to send a scathing email when you have to deliver feedback.

It’s not the distance that’s the problem. It’s the mindset.

Odds are, if you take a moment to ask yourself, “what would be the right leadership behavior for me to exhibit, regardless of where the other people are?” you’ll likely come up with the right solution. Always start from a position of leadership, then the appropriate actions will follow.

Oh, and for the record, here are the other 18 rules:

  1. Think about leadership first, location second
  2. Accept the fact that leading remotely requires you to lead differently
  3. Know that working remotely changes the interpersonal dynamics, even if you don’t want it to
  4. Use technology as a tool, not as a barrier or an excuse
  5. Leading requires a focus on outcomes, others, and ourselves
  6. Leading remotely requires achieving goals of many types
  7. Focus on achieving goals, not just setting them
  8. Coach your team effectively, regardless of where they work
  9. Communicate in the ways that work best for others rather than based on your personal preferences
  10. Leading remotely requires understanding what people are thinking, not just what they are doing
  11. Building trust at a distance doesn’t happen by accident
  12. Identify the leadership results you need, then select the communication tool to achieve them
  13. Maximize a tool’s capabilities or you’ll minimize your effectiveness
  14. Seek feedback to best serve outcomes, others, and ourselves
  15. Examine your beliefs and self-talk—they define how you lead
  16. Accept that you can’t do it all. You shouldn’t try anyway
  17. Balance your priorities to be a Remarkable Long-Distance Leader
  18. Ensure your leadership development prepares Long-Distance Leaders
  19. When all else fails, remember Rule #1

If you haven’t yet checked out The Long-Distance Leader, Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership, what’s keeping you? May we also suggest its companion book, The Long-Distance Teammate—Stay Engaged and Connected While Working Anywhere.

In fact, we’ve got a special virtual book club coming up in July where Kevin and I will personally lead you through The Long-Distance Teammate. Registration is open now, so save your spot.


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. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

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Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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