Guest Post by Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel
What are long-distance leaders most worried about? In our research for “The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership,” we asked that question a lot.
Is it that their people aren’t working when they should be? No, barely a quarter of managers actually ask themselves that question. Maybe it’s that tasks will fall through the cracks? Again, it’s a concern but not the thing that keeps these folks awake at night. One of the biggest concerns people have when leading from a distance is not getting enough feedback on their own ideas and actions. That’s why every long-distance leader needs a sounding board. We like to call them Jiminy Crickets.
Why Remote Leaders Need a Jiminy Cricket
If you’ll remember in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, Jiminy was the grasshopper who followed the puppet around and acted as his conscience, reminding him that “If you do that, you’ll never be a real boy.” Now, we don’t think you actually need to converse with insects (although it can get lonely, and more than a few of us have had in-depth policy discussions with our dogs) to be a good leader.
What we need is feedback. We need to speak or write our ideas out and find out if they make sense in the real world. Does that plan sound as good to someone else as it does in our own head? As a leader, we need to not only have ideas and plans but to gain the wisdom of others to check our assumptions and ensure clear communication.
All leaders need trusted advisors—people to whom they can go for honest assessments and clear thinking. In the office, (assuming you are open to it) this isn’t hard to come by. You can see a person at the coffee machine and strike up a conversation. Or, you can hold someone after a meeting to continue a conversation. Seeing Alice at her desk can remind you that she’s usually pretty good about offering her honest opinion, and you seek her out.
Feedback for Remote Leaders
When we work remotely, this feedback can be hard to come by. First, we are literally alone with our thoughts. If you’re a positive person, maybe you can get excited about a new idea or the prospect of a project. If you’re having a bad day, or just in a negative frame of mind, the voices in your head can be overwhelmingly negative, shutting you down and killing perfectly good ideas before they can blossom. We have to get that email out to the team, and rather than take the time to have someone read it for us and offer constructive feedback and changes, we hit “send” and get unexpected reactions.
Seek and You Shall Find
Why don’t we seek out this help? Often it’s because we don’t want to bother hard-working people or interrupt the “real work.” We are in a hurry and know others are too. Most often it’s “out of sight, out of mind.” We don’t see Alice at her desk, so in our rush to get things done we neglect to reach out to her for her wisdom. Then, we’re surprised at the response to our simple request.
As a long-distance leader, being intentional about getting feedback—both before we communicate and to judge the response to our messages—is critical.
So, even though we as remote leaders might not have our Jiminy Crickets physically near, we still can access them by utilizing our virtual communication channels. Like all the other communication issues we talk about in “The Long-Distance Leader,” though, this communication doesn’t happen as organically as it does in the office. You have to be intentional and plan for it to happen.
Kevin Eikenberry is founder and Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. He’s been named one of Inc.com’s Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and is the author of several books, including Remarkable Leadership.
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute and the author of many books, including ATD’s 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations.
Together Kevin and Wayne created the definitive guide for remote leaders, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.
Photo by Jagoda Kondratiuk on Unsplash