As more organizations adopt a remote workforce, the challenges of leading at a distance become more urgent than ever. Digital disruption has made remote working easier and more accessible to just about anyone. 50% of Fortune 500 companies that existed in 2000 are no longer here due to the rise of the digital age.
According to the World Economic Forum, the disruption has just begun. Leaders need to be prepared for even more changes and even more employees working remotely. But how do you effectively lead a team from long-distance?
Our guest today is an expert on the topic and will answer that question and more. Kevin Eikenberry is the Cofounder of Bud to Boss and Leading Remotely. In 2014 to Inc.com’s Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World. He is also the bestselling author of Remarkable Leadership: Unleashing Your Leadership Potential One Skill at a Time. His new book The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership, is a helpful guide on how to keep productivity high, build lasting relationships, and keep morale high when leading remote teams.
When you’re done reading the interview, you can follow Kevin on Twitter by clicking here.
Q. Welcome to StartUp Mindset, Kevin. We’re excited to have you here. For the readers who are not familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
For nearly 30 years (25 of it as the owner of The Kevin Eikenberry Group) I have been committed to helping more leaders be more effective and make a bigger positive difference in the world. Starting at a Fortune 10 company, now working with leaders around the world, and leading a team myself, we work to bring practical, principle-based products and services to leaders and organizations around the world.
Q. You’ve written a very good book called The Long-Distance Leader. Tell us more about the book and why you decided to write it.
Thanks for the feedback. We wrote this book because leaders are leading remote teams – this is the reality of the world today. And while there are thousands of books about developing leadership skills (and I’ve written some of them), there are any that effectively help us deal with the nuances of leading people who you don’t see everyday, often, or ever. Doing this everyday myself, and working with clients in the same boat prompted us to write this book as a way to expand the Remote Leadership Institute part of my business.
Q. What leadership advice would you give to a startup founder who wants to elevate their business past the survival stage?
When you are starting up you have a million short-term things to think about. If you want to get past survival you must lift your head up to gain a different perspective. When you look further down the road, you still see and can avoid the bumps right in front of you. But if you only look at the end of your hood you will constantly be swerving, and never know where you are really going. Think sooner about your big picture outcomes, and make all the immediate decisions and put out all the fires with the long term goal in mind.
Q. Trust is a key component to a strong relationship between leaders and their teams. How can those in remote leadership positions build the trust bond with their remote teams?
Agreed! And building trust at a distance can be more challenging. If you want to build trust with those you see infrequently, you must be more intentional in your trust building actions – including working to build a relationship (once people know us we have a foundation to build greater trust), communicating frequently and openly, delegating meaningful tasks effectively, and listening carefully to others.
Q. With so many communication tools available these days, how can remote leaders choose the right tool that will be the most effective for their type of business?
Worry less about what tool you have. Instead learn to use it well, and use it in the right situations. For example, we all (painfully) know that email isn’t a very good tool for an extended conversation – it is the wrong tool for that job. So get everyone on the team clear on when and for what purposes we use different tools. Then, once you have selected a tool, use it well – about 80% of people use about 20% of the capability of most software tools – including web collaboration and communication tools.
Q. Managing projects is challenging enough when leading remote teams but coaching can be especially difficult for leaders. What coaching tips would you give to leaders who want to be better coaches to their teams.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Set clearer expectations with team members so they know what the targets are and you know what you are coaching against.
- Have more frequent conversations with them.
- Make coaching and feedback a part of more of your conversation with remote team members.
- Turn on your webcam for more of your conversations – the coaching will be more successful and trust will grow as a result.
Q. What mindset or trait do you think every entrepreneur must possess in order to become a remarkable leader?
Leadership isn’t about us. Entrepreneurs typically have a strong ego, and sometimes this gets in the way of leading effectively. Leadership is about setting targets and helping people move towards them. That is easy to say, and hard to do. As an entrepreneur and leader, we must keep our focus outward – on outcomes and other people, recognizing that when we serve those two things well, good things will happen for us too.
You can learn more from Kevin by visiting his blog.