What is being a leader? Do we need great leadership in a remote work environment? Remote teams need good leadership as much as on-site teams. Leaders are the ones motivating team members, pushing towards better results for a common goal.
After the pandemic, strategies to improve leadership in a remote work environment became a necessity. Virtual and distributed teams can be a great solution for companies. But team members still need leaders to keep motivation high over time and deliver a quality outcome.
Being a leader means more than assigning and monitoring tasks. It’s about envisioning the company’s future and motivating team members to do their best.
This article will focus on what is leadership, why is it important, and ten core practices to improve your skills as a remote manager:
Leader vs manager: what’s the difference?
George Washington used to say: “Remember that it is the actions, and not the commission, that make the officer, and that there is more expected from him, than the title.”
There is more than organising and planning tasks to leadership. The question ‘what is leadership’ means considering something that goes beyond running a team. It relates to inspiration and creativity, a vision of the future, and the ability to engage with others to achieve a common goal. Unlike managers, a great leader looks at the big picture to guide everyone toward the best possible outcome – instead of monitoring each task.
According to researcher Michael Maccoby’s definition, managers are fundamentally administrators. A manager writes business plans, sets budgets for projects and new hires, and monitors quality. On the other hand, a leader guides the organisation and people towards change and innovation.
Great leadership is a necessary element for any business. However, leadership has the additional role of making visible the bigger picture for the team. Under tight deadlines and stressful times, the leader is the one who sits asides the team reminding them why the effort is worth it. And make sure to direct each task and step toward the company’s ultimate goal.
So, what does leadership look like?
According to Maccoby, leaders envision the company’s future and find the necessary resources to make it happen. To summarise the role of operational and strategical leaders, the author identifies four strategic things.
First, leaders are good at selecting people. They aren’t afraid to hire talent with high expertise. The point of great leadership is guiding different skillsets towards common goals rather than being the expert.
Second, leaders motivate and create relationships. The point is to stimulate anyone’s motivation to exercise specific abilities and create something new for the team.
Third, a leader is like a coach, guiding each team member to improve and give the best.
Finally, a great leader builds trust. In busy times, people will start to wonder where is the point in working so hard for a company that doesn’t even know who you are. Solid leadership helps people see why they are doing what they are doing and that each task is equally vital for the business to succeed.
Essential great leadership characteristics:
Great leadership includes a series of elements that direct the team, more than organising and controlling the work. Here are the essential leadership characteristics for on-site and remote teams alike:
- Integrity: Transparency and integrity are essential to build trust among team members and ask for their best performance.
- Ability to delegate: A great leader knows when others can do better and how to assign tasks to achieve the best results.
- Communication: The ability to communicate doesn’t only mean explaining tasks. But also contextualise what needs to be done in the bigger picture and when it’s time to give feedback.
- Self-awareness: A good leader must be self-aware of what they say and ask, and how team members would react to requests or feedback.
- Gratitude: It’s important to show gratitude for quality performance, and motivating the professional growth of your team members.
- Empathy: Likewise, it’s crucial to listen and understand team dynamics to predict and handle internal conflict.
- Adaptability: Situations change all the time, and leaders are the ones embracing transformation instead of holding on to traditional models.
- Respect: Any leader needs to gain respect by working with team members rather than giving orders.
- Ability to stand out: Finally, good leaders are the ones who stand out for what is right. For example, you notice that one of your team members is constantly finding excuses to pass over boring tasks. It’s important that you publicly acknowledge that you know know that other team members are overworking. So, they can trust that you have good reasons to ask them for extra work for some time.
How to be a great leader in a remote work environment
Great leadership is necessary for a physical and remote work environment alike. However, there are some differences to take into account. In a remote work environment, in-person supervision isn’t possible, and communication lacks gestures or facial expressions to read non-verbal communication.
You need a different set of strategies and methods to be a leader in a distributed team. For example, instead of micro-managing, it’s important to consider the quality and punctuality of deliveries. If you leave enough freedom to your team members, they will be willing to deliver on time to maintain your trust and their freedom.
Furthermore, delegating is essential – “the shift from doing to leading,” according to Harvard Business Review. Organising regular meetings, you can strategically divide tasks based on your team members’ skills and attitudes. Furthermore, it’s essential to leave full responsibility for the assigned task to your team members. Of course, you will always be there to answer questions and help. But if your employees feel accountable, they will be more motivated to finish the task with the best outcome.
Finally, make sure to organise regular meetings to encourage communication with you and among team members. A distributed team doesn’t mean working alone, and it’s your role to make everyone feel part of the team.
10 practices to learn great leadership
How to be a great leader is an attitude that you can learn working with people. The secret to great leadership is different for any team. However, here are 10 core strategies to improve your leadership skills as a remote manager:
Develop long-run vision
On-site or remote, leaders must be able to look at the future and picture further steps for the company. You can district your managers’ work if you don’t know where you are heading with the company. Or which are the best tools to use to encourage your team productivity. So, it’s essential to train yourself to look at trends and imagine how your company can stand out from competitors.
Seek and promote inspiration
In the same vein, your role is to convey your vision to your team and inspire them to work at their best. Creating company culture is more than organising regular Zoom calls or a channel on Slack. It means making anyone feel part of a growing project because of the team’s shared effort.
Learn strategic and critical thinking
A good leader is critically looking at the organisation to understand its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats. Strategic and critical thinking is crucial to give feedback and improve your teamwork over time.
Use interpersonal communication
As we mentioned, leaders know how to communicate and interact with team members. Here, communication doesn’t mean that you know how to become their best friend. But how to talk to them to understand challenges and bottlenecks to improve the group work.
Be authentic and self-aware
Being honest and conscious about your behaviour and decision is necessary to gain your team members’ trust.
Seek open-mindedness and creativity
A good leader knows when to admit a mistake or when it’s better to change strategy. Further, leaders welcome better ideas even when they come from junior positions because they care about the company’s growth more than qualifications.
Adapt and be flexible
As we said, things change all the time. And a good leader finds a way to make the best of it, suggesting new ideas for the team.
Have a sense of responsibility and dependability
Responsibility and dependability are fundamental for both individual and team interaction. On one side, employees need to feel responsible for their tasks and duties. On the other, they know you are accountable any time they have questions or need clarification.
Be patient and determined
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to wait for the right moment to play your best card. And ask for extra work from your team only when it is necessary.
Finally, being a leader doesn’t mean knowing everything. You need to keep improving like your team members. There is always a new technology, a new trend, or a strategy to test, and leaders aren’t afraid of what is new!
To recap, becoming a leader is more than checking boxes on a leadership qualities list. It is about learning a way to listen to others and understand their strengths to achieve a common goal. More than a single skill, great leadership is about approaching your team to build trust and respect to work together over time.
Being a leader means putting the company’s interests first, and finding ways to communicate your vision to your team members. On-site or remote, great leadership means finding the glue to make everyone work at it best for a common goal.
We talked about ten core practices to improve your leadership skills. Now it’s time to lead your distributed team!
About the Author
Costanza Tagliaferri is a Writer and Content Marketer at DistantJob and Think Remote. With a background in philosophy and technology, she has covered a wide range of topics. Now, she is focussing on technology, traveling, and remote work.