It might seem that leading a remote team has very little to do with Ancient Rome, but stick with me on this. I have decided I need an Auriga. So do you. Every team does. Okay, you probably need more to work with….
An Auriga was a slave to the Roman Caesar. He used to drive in the chariot with the Emperor during public events. While everyone was cheering and telling the leader how great they were, this man’s job was to lean over and whisper “Memento homo”- remember you are only a man. The idea was that lest the boss get too carried away by acclaim and the crowd’s adulation, he needed to remain humble and not get carried away by his power. Given that only 49 of nearly 200 Caesars died of old age, this was not a minor issue.
If this seems too obscure, let’s go with something more familiar. In Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, one of the truly underrated characters was Jiminy Cricket. This character’s thankless task was to act as the puppet’s conscience, basically telling him “if you do that, you’ll never be a real boy.”
Okay, we aren’t as power-mad as Nero, nor as irresponsible as Pinocchio, but leaders need honest feedback if we’re going to be effective. The problem in a virtual workplace, is we often spend a lot of time alone with our thoughts, and don’t have enough opportunities for honest, robust discussion. As a result, we sometimes make decisions or announcements that don’t have the intended effect on our audience.
Here’s why that feedback is critical, and why we need to create ways to cultivate honest working relationships.
- There’s a natural power imbalance already, whether you know it or not. Leaders tell us all the time that they aren’t dictators, and that they crave input, they just often don’t get it. No matter how well-intentioned you are, if you have positional authority over someone (if you are anywhere between them and their paycheck) it may be difficult to get honest input. People want to please you, appease you, and keep on your good side.
- Trusting work relationships are built through time and exposure. You can try simply saying, “be honest with me,” but the only way to get candid feedback is to develop trusting working relationships. Do people trust you not to retaliate when there’s bad news? Will you accept their feedback as intended or take it personally? Only frequent, consistent interaction can you create those bonds.
- You’ll have to use the tools at hand. Unless you have a small team, everyone works walking distance from the office, or you have an unlimited travel budget, a lot of your everyday communication will be through technology. Are you maximizing tools like webcams, Skype for Business, Slack, or other team tools effectively? Do you know your people’s faces, work styles and preferences? If you don’t, you’re working with one hand tied behind your back, and trust me, you want both hands free.
As the leader of a remote team, you’ll want to communicate with your team multiple times and in multiple ways. A lot of that communication will be one way—from them to you. Listen to their input, demonstrate your willingness to take criticism and act on it. Whether it’s a Roman slave, a cartoon insect, or that quiet lady in HR, are you listening to your team? Do they know it?
For more information on building effective team processes that make communication run, check out our How to Create and Manage Remote Teams program here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.