Many leaders and managers find it difficult not to have their employees in the same location. They can be in another country, or just in another city. Well, Julius Caesar built an empire lasting 500 years, and he did not have his people close. And he did not have mail, Lync, or Skype. Sure, he had field managers, but they too would often need to work with teams out on a mission for weeks without any contact.
Instead of thinking that it is a loss that we cannot “see” our team(s) every day, should we think how we can turn remote to an advantage?
Here are some advantages of having employees that cannot run to the manager all the time they have a problem:
- They have to learn to be problem solvers. They have to use resources around them, be creative, and find their way of solving the problem.
- They have to learn to be the local governor for the country/location and represent the department or company towards customers and stakeholders.
- They have to be empowered to take decisions based on their best judgment within the frame of the company values and guidelines. So every employee will have to be a decision maker.
- Often, an employee in this situation would be the only one representing your department or company in the location. This means they will have to be able to convey the vision to others, turn it into action, create local followers, meet the expectations from several stakeholders.
- Very often, being the only eyes and ears on the ground, we depend on them to understand local needs and communicate that to the leadership.
- If your team manages the daily work without depending on continuous contact with you, you will have time to look forward, create the strategy for the next stage, work with your team to transform plans and actions into and reaching the desired culture. On top, you will have time to be available for your employees when they need to consult you.
I just read an interview in FORTUNE with Herb Kelleher, who is the founder of the customer service leading, successful Southwest Airline. He has some very interesting thoughts about leadership. In his opinion most leaders are too fond of the word “strategy”. It sounds important. However, the execution is what creates results, and that takes a lot of work and attention. Some people look for a magic formulae, but you really have to understand the details, and connect with all employees to get that understanding. Doing this forms the desired culture, and will guide your employees to make the right decisions. He quotes Tolstoy, who shall have said “How does Napoleon march onto a balcony in France and get a whole bunch of French troops to march into Russia to their death?” According to Herb Kelleher the strategy was his imperial ambitions, but what made the troops march was the culture. It’s the troops marching that defines the culture.
I don’t mean we should march our teams into deaths 🙂 but I get his point. It is the doing that creates the culture. Not the saying.
So, how is this relevant for your team? Well, if you are leading a team of highly skilled knowledge workers like I do, we know they hate to be micro managed. They want to use their education, skills, and experience to do the work independently. They like to work towards clear goals, and the expect to be given the tools and the trust to do so. They also expect you as a manager to be available when they need you, and support them in thick and thin. In fact, being a manager for a knowledge worker today is very much remote management, even if you are located in the same office. In many work places, you can work from home, from the customer site, or from a train. You can forget about controlling your team. The only way is to make them independent, give them goals and let them run with it.
I don’t see Caesar or Napoleon as someone to copy, but if Herb Kelleher could successfully lead 38.000 employees by trust, culture, and in an organization where every employee was seen by their manager, I believe we could do it as well in our teams.
Adding Technology solutions like Lync, Skype, and mail makes it much easier to keep the communications lines open, and is a huge advantage we have over Caesar. So we should be able to achieve even more 😉