6 Traits Of Leaders Who Successfully Manage Remote Employees
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
While many of the traits that define a good manager vary depending on the organization, the team and the manager, through my studies I have identified a set of six personality traits universally found in the most successful leaders of remote teams. You may find you already naturally possess some of these characteristics while others you will have to work to develop.
Characteristic No. 1: Indefatigable
If the thought of logging in to a midnight meeting or holding a coaching session at 3:00 in the morning gives you a mental rush and a blast of energy, you’re on the right track. Managing remote teams often means managing across different time zones and can require working long days and oddball hours. If you gravitate towards a 9-to-5 mindset, or if your energy flags after a “normal day,” aspiring to maintain a tireless stream of energy and enthusiasm may sound like a direct route to burn out. Try adapting to a more flexible schedule by including breaks between work “sprints” to keep performance over long periods more consistent. You can also test yourself with this Is Your Personality Suited To Working Remotely Or In The Office? quiz.
Characteristic No. 2: Company Evangelist
Remote employees need to hear positive stories about brand messaging, company culture and organizational values, but feel-good messaging doesn’t always travel well across phone lines, videoconferencing and email. And when there are negative, gossipy stories about who did what to whom to compete against, communication gets even harder. The best leaders of remote teams are extra positive, extra pro values, extra pro-culture and extra pro-brand. Successful evangelism needs to be sincere if it is to transmit across the miles. If your connection to the organization is only lukewarm, try sharing company success stories that exemplify a heartfelt connection to the organization, what it does and the people it serves.
Characteristic No. 3: Encouraging
Remote employees encounter bumps in road just like everyone else and they need a strong manager that keeps them solutions-focused with clear and positive messaging. The most successful managers encourage remote employees through optimism and positive energy. Set a positive precedent by welcoming challenges as exciting new opportunities that offer a chance to achieve something cool, interesting and innovative. Great pep talks don’t have to be complicated. Just let people know, “We hit a bump in the road, but that’s OK. We can overcome this. We’re going to work through it. We’re going to make it happen.”
Characteristic No. 4: Approachable
Open communications help managers to stay well-informed, but when employees are located across the country instead of across the hall, it isn’t always easy. If you’re usually the last one to hear about bad news, take it as a warning sign that you may not be approachable.
Approachability doesn’t mean you have to be everyone’s best friend, your employees just have to feel comfortable bringing you news, be it good or bad. You don’t have to establish a full-time open-door policy to let remote employees know it’s safe to talk, but do set clear rules on how and when you want to be contacted and communicate them to your team. The best leaders engage remote employees in frequent and authentic conversation. They also skip questions like “How’s it going?” and instead dig for real information by asking direct questions including “What’s getting in your way?” “What roadblocks are you facing right now?” “What’s stopping you?” “What’s holding you back?” and “What’s frustrating you?”
Characteristic No. 5 Constructive
Positive reinforcement, a favored teaching tool of all great leaders, delivers specific feedback that says, “That thing you just did right now was really good.” This encourages employees to repeat the great performance you want to see more of. For example, “Hey, Bob, the way you got that report done ahead of schedule means a lot to me and the customer and the extra data analyses were really creative,” instead of “Great job on that report,” gives Bob two specific, repeatable behaviors that tell him how to achieve similar high performance again.
There are four ruling factors when giving positive reinforcement. First, make it meaningful so there’s a true learning curve. Second, provide a clear picture of the specific performance that’s being commended so employees know how to repeat it. Third, catch employees in the act. Positive reinforcement depends on a brain connection that associates the reward with the desired behavior and for that, positive reinforcement has to be delivered in real time. And finally, don’t cloud the positive message with criticism. There’s a place and a time for constructive criticism, but it isn’t when you’re delivering a positive message.
Characteristic No. 6: Leadership 2.0
One of the biggest challenges in managing remote teams isn’t the actual physical distribution of employees but rather addressing the psychological distance remote employees feel that can impact collaboration. Combating communication limitations helps reduce that psychological distance. Email, while it’s often the most used form of communication within remote teams, is actually the most limited form of communication and it presents the greatest risk of message misinterpretation. The best managers make remote interaction more like face-to-face by picking up the phone or using video conferencing. They also encourage frequent, two-way dialogue that invites employees to offer input, insights and opinions.
It takes dedication and practice to develop these characteristics, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Just pick one area of focus and get started today.