Remote working has thrown up many new challenges, not least of which is leading remotely.
SMEs are renowned for their agility and ability to anticipate and respond to radical change; however, the pandemic has taken this a stage further, testing and challenging leaders within these businesses like never before, to be agile themselves in the way in which they lead.
The pandemic has thrust leaders across the globe into leading individuals and teams remotely, and for many, this has been a period of learning from trial and error. That said, although a new leadership skill for many, remote leadership is not new in itself; people have been leading teams across regions, countries, continents and the globe for years. In fact, we first started researching this 15 years ago and have identified what behaviours differentiate the outstanding, from the average from the poor remote leader.
Our work across the globe has shown that whilst many have adapted well, others have struggled and their natural desire not to let go and to micromanage has inhibited their ability to adapt. They have struggled to transition to leadership from afar from leadership under their nose.
Many have spoken of the challenges and difficulties that they have had to overcome, which include:
No longer being able to spot a problem in the moment and to intervene and rectify the situation immediately;
Not being aware of emerging issues or problems until they appear as a result on a score board or financial report;
Having to learn to engage, inspire and enthuse others from afar without direct contact;
The lack of intimacy and attachment created by working down a lens and the problems this poses for really understanding others.
So, what has the pandemic required of leaders? The ability to:
Create a picture, vision and direction for the way forward
Connecting individuals and teams to where the business or function is heading and their role within it, thereby equipping the individuals and teams to make decisions for themselves;
Enthuse and engage others
From afar by encouraging greater team collaboration, interactions and less insular working, regardless of location and time zones. As well as investing even more time in individuals themselves to really understand them, their context and their perspectives on their challenges;
Diagnose themes and issues
From distance as well as understanding the team’s perspective on these themes and issues. Only with this real understanding can leaders grasp the challenges as the team perceives them and therefore help them to resolve issues for themselves;
Create environments that enable individuals and teams to be self standing
To be able to manage themselves, their priorities and their own decisions within the context of business direction. The pandemic has thrust remote leadership upon the entire leader population and this transition should never be underestimated. As our research suggests, a successful single site leader doesn’t guarantee success as a remote leader.