As leaders of a remote team, it is easier to get down on ourselves. We aren’t getting the participation from our team we’d like. People aren’t honest with us about how their work is going, and we think everything is fine only to have fires pop up in the least likely places. We feel powerless. It seems funny then that others think of you as a superhero (or villain, depending on the day) imbued with mighty abilities beyond those of mere mortals. Seriously, people fear you even if you don’t want them to. And that’s even more true when you work apart from your team.
Don’t believe me, do you?
Here are some of the superpowers you are rumored to have, like it or not:
The ability to stop all work with a single sentence.
Put yourself in a team member’s shoes for a minute: You’re working away, and 5 words come across in the chat. They’re from your boss. Those words are: “Have you got a minute?” Immediately the world stops, whatever you’re working on is halted and you say, “Of course.” Whether you really can spare the time or not, you bow to the power of the boss. Try to remember your awesome power when surprising people with requests. Create context for any request, along with the degree of urgency. What seems like a simple request for information takes on much more importance when it comes from you.
The ability to read minds.
You might not believe you have the power to decipher cryptic messages across the ether, but it seems like your team does. Sometimes people withhold information from us intentionally to cover up mistakes or embarrassment. Mostly they just don’t know what specific information you need at a given time. Ask specific questions and be clear about the information you need. Use open-ended clarifying questions to determine what “doing okay” actually means. They think you already know. Isn’t that adorable?
The ability to cross time, space and dimension.
When you have a distributed team, especially when they are in different time zones, they often think you are always available, any time, anywhere. You don’t eat, have to go to the gym or sleep. You are all-powerful and omnipresent. While we want to be responsive to our team members, it’s critical that we set up boundaries around our time and energy. Help them understand what the rules are for response time, how best to approach you, and share your calendar so people don’t assume you’re sitting around waiting for the Bat-signal. Teach them to be self reliant and trust their colleagues instead of always coming to you.
The ability to crush souls into cosmic dust.
Any time we have a position of authority, whether that’s as a direct boss or indirect authority like a project manager, there is an inherent power imbalance. In our desire to be good leaders, meet people where they are, and try to hide our own frustration and feelings of powerlessness, we need to be aware that our position carries more weight than we believe or even think it ought to. When we make a request, it’s coming from someone who can fire (or at least make life difficult for)the other person. Negative feedback can be crushing if it’s not offered thoughtfully, while on the other hand a kind word can have outsized positive results. Feedback can come from positional power, expertise, or relationship. We might think we’re using all three, our people see Position first. Be careful how you phrase things. Building relationships and trust will help diminish some of the stress, paranoia, and outright fear you might be causing simply with positional power.
Being a leader with official positional power carries with it the baggage that comes with being someone’s boss. Remember the words of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben: with great power comes great responsibility.
If you would like to learn how to better harness thees amazing powers, we offer an ongoing “Super-hero academy” we call The Remote Leadership Certificate Series. Find out which session best meets your schedule and register today.
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.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.