The days of “management by walking around” are over.
Business books from the 1980s encouraged managers to wander around the office, chit-chat with colleagues, and learn valuable information at the water cooler. Today, leaders of all size organizations find themselves managing people remotely.
In recent weeks, I have discussed this with the CEO of a global public company, the student body president of an Ivy League university, the Executive Director of a not-for-profit that builds bridges in developing economies, the founder of a protein bar startup, a U.S. Senator (who manages D.C. and hometown office staffs), and the head of a private equity firm with offices in several countries.
We all agree that it’s time to say goodbye, water coolers, and hello, Zoom. And welcome to a fresh management style.
What makes somebody great at leading people remotely?
At ghSMART, we have consulted with tens of thousands of leaders globally over 25 years, and we publish books based on extremely thorough research and data analytics. Because a widespread adoption of remote working dates back only a year, we don’t have enough solid data yet that focus on remote leaders. However, I will draw on my insights and experience from running a fully remote company for more than 25 years to distill the essential qualities of a great remote leader.
The Great Remote Leader Checklist
- Are you great at setting goals?
- Are you great at hiring?
- Are you great at delegating?
- Does your compensation system reward high performance?
- Do you always do what you say you will do?
If you answered “yes” to all five questions, you’re most likely a great remote leader. In a remote setting, the importance of these leadership skills is amplified. Let me explain why.
If you set unclear goals, it’s easier to clarify them for folks who work in the same office. But if you are working remotely with a team, it’s extra important that everyone understands your expectations and what they must accomplish.
If you are not great at hiring, you notice the ill effects of a hiring mistake immediately in a traditional office environment. But when you work remotely, it’s harder to detect if you have made a hiring mistake, and that can cost you time and money.
If you are not great at delegating, you might find that you can physically see if somebody is getting their work done or not, and pitch in and do it for them if you work in the same office. But you can’t really operate that way in a remote setting. Delegating effectively — and following up clearly and regularly — are extra important in a remote setting.
Compensation is just one way to influence human behavior. In a traditional office context, peer pressure also influences human behavior, but that is less impactful in a remote context. Therefore, it’s extra important to make sure the compensation system rewards the right behaviors. That way, as the manager, you will have confidence that people will care as much about their high performance as you do, because of a clear link between performance and compensation.
Question 5 might surprise you. Why is always doing what you say you will do on the remote leadership checklist? I believe it’s easier to build and maintain trust when you work in the same office as the team you lead. But if your teammates are spread around many locations, it’s imperative that you build two-way trust with them, to give them confidence to make decisions and to ensure they stay rather than quit. Therefore, it strikes me as essential that you always do what you say you will do, to amplify the trust with your team and empower them to operate remotely.
If you want to build these skills, please read our books: Power Score is all about how to set priorities, hire, and build relationships focused on results. Who gives you clues about how to increase your hiring success rate from 50 percent to 90 percent, which is essential if you are leading people remotely. The CEO Next Door emphasizes core skills that are essential in a remote setting — decisiveness, adaptability, reliability, and engaging for impact.
I’m really proud of my ghSMART colleagues and how effectively we lead our firm remotely, as we have done for more than 25 years. And ghSMART is hiring. If you want to learn how to advise influential CEOs, boards, and government leaders, work with talented, diverse, and goodhearted people (remotely), and have control over your time, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a career conversation.
Dr. Geoff Smart is Chairman & Founder of leadership advisory firm ghSMART, which exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world. In 2021, Vault named ghSMART the #1 best consulting firm to work for in overall colleague satisfaction (as well as client interaction and challenge). ghSMART has published four bestselling leadership books: Who: The A Method for Hiring (by Smart and Street, #1 in the category of “hiring”), Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) into Government (by Smart), Power Score (by Smart, Street, and Foster), and The CEO Next Door (by Botelho and Powell).