When you think of effective leadership, you probably picture scenes of hands-on training and in-person evaluations. It can seem like a challenge to lead a team from a distance and rightly so; there is a lot of value in face-to-face communication that we don’t typically get from emails and Slack messages.
Still, there are times that distance leadership is necessary; for example, the current COVID-19 pandemic has us social distancing and, as a result, working from home. That’s not to say your businesses cannot keep running — you and your team just have to get creative in terms of expectations and communication. It’s not just crisis situations, though; leading a team remotely comes in handy when you’re traveling for business, sick at home, or simply out of the office for a day’s worth of meetings.
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With that said, leading from afar is an important skill to build as you’ll never know when a situation calls for remote leadership and, if you want your business to be sustainable, you need to be effective no matter where you’re located in proximity to your team.
For those new to leadership roles, delegation is a tricky act that requires a lot of trust and confidence in your employees. If you have an existing team, this may already come as second nature in the office. However, once you factor in distance, it can be a challenge to let go of something over which you don’t have direct oversight. What if you don’t catch the glaring typo in a social media post? What if a client’s emails are being left unanswered? Everything reflects on you, so it’s natural to feel uncomfortable when first learning to delegate.
A good way to make this easier on you is to take some time and evaluate the strengths and weakness of each team member. If someone excels at client communications, assign them related tasks and let the social media whiz handle the content calendar. You hired these people for a reason, so provide them with the opportunity to succeed and you will all be better for it.
Choose your right-hand person
If you leave everyone to their own devices, you’ll be fielding a lot of questions from your team — even if you’re sick in bed or on a plane. To lessen the load, elect a high-performing and responsible employee to steer the ship in your absence. They’ll be responsible for overseeing day-to-day responsibilities and you’ll have an easy point-of-contact to check in regularly. This should be a team member that is trustworthy and respected by the rest of the staff.
Remain present from day-to-day
Although you may not be available to answer any and every question (see previous point!), you still need to show up from time to time. It’s not about disappearing for a week and coming back expecting everything to be perfect. Consider using a messaging app like Slack or Facebook messenger to stay in touch while away. If necessary, you may also want to set aside an hour each day (or every other day) for one-on-one status meetings with the team. Your second-in-command will handle most of the oversight, but you are still the leader and must act like it.
Leadership is a multi-faceted skill and there will always be new challenges to face when you’re the head of a company. One thing is for sure, though: The more versatile you can be as a leader, the more successful your team—and your company—will be as a whole.