A free lesson in leadership
If you, like the rest of the white-collar world, have been fast-tracked to working out how to manage the new blending of home and work. Working out how to manage a workforce that I like to call locally-remote. And about how to get the best out of a team also finding their own feet. There are three things that you absolutely must not do.
They all involve how you interact with your team, and most importantly, if you can overcome them you can thrive in any workplace, anywhere.
When I was in a job earlier in my career, I had a boss (we’ll call him James) who absolutely got the best out of me. He had a knack for getting more out of people than I thought possible.
I’d walk into his office to talk through a problem, and walk out so full of energy and excitement for the work ahead of me.
This was amazing, and a little strange. Because I couldn’t pinpoint one moment between walking into his office and out again where ‘it’ happened. Where I became suddenly energised, where I forgot about how hard the job was, where I was transported to ‘what if I managed it?’ instead of ‘how?’.
I’ll try and tell you what he did, why he was such an engaging boss. Then, using the things he did well as an example, describe what you should avoid if you want to be a great boss. Especially when you aren’t with your team.
DON’T be a Thermometer
This boss of mine, James, was good at controlling speed. What I mean is he would be able to speed up something that needed to happen quickly and slow down those things that are moving too fast.
He did this through his energy and the way he communicated.
In a situation where bosses are starting to feel like they are losing control of their team, it is a common trap to want to start paying attention and react to the ‘temperature’ of the team. Measure how they are handling stress, how their energy levels are, where they need someone to step in.
This is a trap and it is magnified by being a remote leader in ways that you may not notice.
Those bosses that are reacting to their environment are thermometer leaders. Thermometers are reactionary, they are a lag indicator. They tell you it is getting hot, or getting cold. They do nothing to regulate.
A thermometer leader senses when their team is stressed and gets stressed themselves. A thermometer leader reacts to an inter-team argument with a louder voice. You will have seen thermometer leaders in your workplace.
Thermostats, even though they sound like thermometers, are very different. They react to small changes in temperature to keep it within a band. This band is the area in which the things it is protecting work the best.
James was a thermostat, instead of reacting to the speed of the teams and projects. He would control the speed to get optimum outcomes.
When you are a remote boss, it can be difficult to ‘sense’ what needs to change. So you need to continuously try to measure performance, stress, fatigue, etc. This starts to put you in the Thermometer category. Reacting.
To be a great remote boss, don’t measure and react. Control the tempo and stress by providing insight into tasks important to the business, where things can go slower because of changes outside of the team. Let the team understand the environment and they will optimise inside of it.
Regulate, don’t react.
DON’T talk about tasks and actions
James would rarely talk about actions. Not even really about tasks. He would continuously circle back on the possible outcomes or the complications we were facing.
I found this particularly unique in bosses I have had. Even more important, I found it really energising.
For instance, he would say things like. ‘Could you imagine something like this? I think that would be really neat. I know that you could make something like that happen’, and I’d walk out of the room thinking I had an amazing idea about how to solve this problem we were facing.
Or he’d say, ‘I’ve noticed that whenever we try and do this, they react poorly. Could you think of a different way to approach it? Could we try something different at this weeks engagement?’.
Outcomes or complications. It was amazing.
As a remote boss, it is easy to refer back to checklists and action items and progress updates. It is easy to fall into holding accountability for your team’s success. This is a trap.
Instead of asking if they are making progress on that report. Talk to them about the importance of the report, and how it needs to communicate this message to the vendor. Let them know that other members of the team can support them, and you can offer some advice.
Let them identify that they have work to do, and they need to focus on the report.
Actions make them an extension of you. You are the mastermind and they are your pawns.
Outcomes and complications mean that they need to work it out. They need to engage their mind. They grow into capable leaders themselves.
So don’t upload task lists, instead, spend time communicating outcomes and complications and let the team do the rest.
Complications over tasks, outcomes over actions.
DON’T create a work tribe
James was good at understanding people. He spent time looking for uncommon commonalities with his team, in fact with almost anyone he interacted with.
Uncommon commonalities are things like; both of you went to the same school, you both support a common football team, you both like the occasional gin and tonic, you’ve both travelled to Spain.
James spent time finding those things and made sure that they were regular parts of any conversation. He created a ‘language’ that was just for you.
We would regularly speak about one of these things, create a banter that bounced of them.
It re-enforced the fact that we were part of his tribe. We had our own language, we had shared experiences.
Too often, bosses rely on work to provide this common language. They create dialogue and lingo that is bounded only by the scope of your work relationship. All ‘naturalised’ words are derivations from your work environment. These are important, but they cannot be the only thing.
This becomes magnified with remote staff. You do not have those idle meandering conversation that unearths your uncommon commonalities. You need to create time for them and foster them.
Make them a natural part of your regular conversations. Never force them, you shouldn’t have to, but make sure that you normalise them. I know I’ve been in a situation where I can lean to one of my teammates and say, ‘I bet he’s going to mention something about Spain’. Then he will open with ‘I could really go some Sangria about now, but maybe on the weekend hey?’. I would roll my eyes, smile, and then talk about how I can never make it the same and we would laugh.
Was it predictable, regularly, was it important, definitely.
So remember, as a remote boss create a tribe, not a work tribe.
Find your uncommon commonalities
Being a remote leader is hard. Scrap that — being a leader is hard.
I’ve given you three things you should avoid if you want to nail it.
- Regulate the environment, don’t react to it.
- Focus on complications and outcomes over actions and tasks.
- Create a tribe through uncommon commonalities.
What are some of yours?
Inspired by life. Leadership, Growth, Personal Development. Engineer and Sports Enthusiast. Top Writer in Leadership. You can find me at leonpurton.com.