As a remote leader for the last 8 years of my career, I haven’t had the learning curve that some leaders find themselves on right now. Transitioning into a remote leader does require a re-tune. Organic moments in the office don’t happen unless you make them happen. And unless you have a sixth sense that crosses the space-time continuum, then you have to know what to focus on to do that.
Forbes released a visual guide on five key things to remember when communicating with your team. I have adapted this to be exclusively focused on leading a remote team. I will, however, admit that I’m liberally leveraging Forbes in this particular post.
As a leader, great communication is critical not just to provide details about the mission and vision of what you are trying to accomplish, but also to motivate, inspire and manage relationships to move people in the desired direction.
When leading, we often don’t realize that the spotlight is always on us. Everything we say and do is being scrutinized, for better or for worse. By accepting both the honor and challenge of leading a team, it is important to remember that what we do both on and off the “battlefield” affects our ability to lead. Words and actions can become habits, and habits contribute to defining our character. Leadership is a privilege that must be earned every day.
Leadership communication is much more than the words we say and how we articulate what we want to team to “hear.” Effective communication is also about emotional intelligence, knowing your audience, and active listening.
1. Ask the Right Questions
Some of the best advice I have ever received was simply about asking the right questions that will foster productive and intelligent communication between the team. As leaders, one of the greatest privileges we have is building a great team.
I love this quote because leadership is a privilege and sometimes we need to be reminded of that. But knowing this is only the beginning. You are only as good as the people that work with you and for you. Leveraging their intellect, their passion, their ideas – will not only keep your team more engaged but will make you smarter. Steve Jobs said it best “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
2. Stay calm and be positive
Calm is contagious. And so is panic.
I am fortunate to have one of the calmest and most positive leaders I have ever had and it is inspirational. Inspirational because in a remote work environment, it is all too easy to spin. I know first hand how valuable it is to have a leader that stays calm – as it is contagious. His calm quickly helps me relax. I’ve noticed that I have to remind myself to be that for my team. My team doesn’t need a leader that increases the speed in which they spin but one that reduces their spin.
3. Speak less, listen more
Similar to asking the right questions is actively listening to those speaking… Leadership isn’t about standing on a soap box shouting orders. You often notice that the wisest people listen more and speak less. The less we talk, the more we will learn from those around us.-Forbes
I have had too much experience with leaders that fail to listen. This kind of leader will talk over everyone to get his point across and will do it repeatedly in a 30-minute meeting. This same person will only listen to respond – which is not actually listening. When we do that, we aren’t truly engaged in the conversation – we are only concerned about pushing our perspective.
In a remote environment, it can be disastrous to not listen. The result of the above leader is a disengaged team that quickly stops contributing. In contrast, when you listen, when you have a conversation – you have a team in the seat and ready to contribute. To learn more – I recommend watching this video from Celeste Headlee.
4. Be present
Executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders of all kinds usually have days with little to no downtime…Be engaged with your audience no matter how trivial you think the conversation may be. That way they know you care.
I think there are two key elements to this – 1) be present with your self; 2) be present with your team. When you work remotely during a pandemic, homeschooling, and an election year – things can be a bit distracting. Step 1: Be patient and present with yourself – do what you need to do to be present. Step 2: Make every conversation count by showing up. It is obvious to your employees when you aren’t present
5. Work on emotional intelligence
This is a topic that can’t be covered in one bullet point but worth mentioning because it is often overlooked or deemed an unnecessary quality. Emotional intelligence is not a softer-side leadership quality, it’s imperative. Being self-aware, disciplined, empathetic, and remaining calm under pressure are all aspects of emotional intelligence that can improve leadership ability.
Emotional Intelligence is often overlooked in times of stress. But when everyone is going too fast, many people forget to see the signs that others are expressing. Slack and email can often mask others’ anxiety, and there are clear times when you, as a leader, need to hop on a call to help reduce anxiety and stress building in others. Do an emotional intelligence self-check and start by writing down how everyone in your team is doing right now, then ask them in your next one on one meeting. Is there a difference?
There are always areas to work on as a leader. That’s one of the most amazing things about being a leader. The team, the environment, the company goals, and your own professional development make every day different from the next. That is incredibly exciting. But never forget that leadership is a privilege – learn and grow; not just because you need to improve for yourself. But focus on learning and growing because your team needs you to improve.