3 Ways Managing Remotely Made Me A Better Leader

Managing people is hard enough, but try doing it remotely.

On a weekly basis I spend the bulk of my hours at work meeting 30 individuals via Zoom for 30 minute check-ins. During that time we cover a myriad of different metrics that rate their performance, but I choose to focus on 3 things solely:

1. Connecting – technology has widened the talent pool, but also breeds disconnection. Instead of being concerned about physical location as a barrier, I try to immerse myself in a session as if we were in the same room. Human connection is a powerful thing no matter where you are. Relationships are formed over time through trust regardless of distance. Working remotely can present challenges yet with empathy, active listening and genuine care the virtual gap can be closed. Think of having a conversation with a friend over coffee. The same principles of building a friendship apply here. Connection is the foundation for any working relationship to thrive.

2. Community – working from home sounds glorious until you look around and realize you’re alone. If employees can feel isolated in an office full of co-workers imagine how remote employees feel. The concept of a “virtual water cooler” has been talked about, but how do you make it happen? As a suggestion, Slack is a great place to start. The platform you choose isn’t as important as it’s function. In this case it’s to organically build relationships during personal time. Instead of gathering at the lunch table or local bar, it’s responding to someone’s question, comment, photo or video. It’s not something that can be forced, nor in some cases facilitated. It takes several people in the group to take initiative and put in the effort to communicate. In fact the best interactions are when the manager isn’t involved. The voluntary part of it makes it real.

3. Cultivate – the uniqueness of each member of the team makes the whole together special. Most managers try to control employees working remotely because they have trust issues. The problem is the more policies and procedures you enforce, the more anarchy is created. Trust is built via connecting so everything grows out of that. Don’t try to mold everyone to be the same, celebrate their differences. When each person brings their unique talents and strengths to the table, why would a manager quell them? A manager’s role is to bring out the best in each person by leveraging personal strengths. If you’re not developing people as a manager you’re crushing their spirit. It’s not enough to have the right people on the bus. Each person has to be on the right seat in order to reach the promise land. My job is to allow my team to shine by getting out of their way.

As a leader managing people remotely is challenging, but a true test of your abilities. Similar to organizing volunteers, when you are stripped of power, money and resources all you have is your relationships. My belief is if you can lead others remotely, you can lead any team anywhere. If you want to test your leadership capabilities manage people from a distance. You’ll be forced to give up control, ego and certainty…and that’s not a bad thing at all.

How Bad Examples Fuel Change

Every moment is a learning opportunity, even the bad ones..

When I started as an entrepreneur I knew networking was crucial to success so without hesitation I joined my local Chamber of Commerce. The first event I attended was in the patio of a local eatery dressed with free food and drinks.

There were two types of people there: veteran members who stood on the sidelines talking to each and newbies like me introducing myself to anyone who wasn’t in conversation. Reciting an elevator pitch, handing out business cards and trying to sell myself was my approach. I remember it being quite loud there so 50 business cards later I left forgetting who was who and quite hoarse from the night’s interactions. After I got home, decompressed and evaluated the event I questioned the purpose of it.

A month later I figured maybe I just had a bad experience and went to the next event in an office space. Less food, quieter ambiance and more intimate. But the results were the same. As I introduced myself to members, I felt judged. Did I need to earn their respect immediately by telling a recent conquest? It seemed like it would take a while to penetrate the walls of folded arms, so I decided to leave.

I said to myself, “If this is what networking is, I don’t want to do it anymore!”

A few years later I was in a slow season of business and knew I had to drum up some new contacts, but didn’t know how. As someone who loves to organize events, I knew what components both needed to be present and absent for actual “connecting” to happen. I met with a friend and shared my vision for this new type of networking event and he encouraged me to try it…so I did.

Career Synergy was a 90-minute, monthly networking event hosted at a local coffee shop after hours on the first Tuesday of the month geared towards young professionals. How did I decide on these details? Surveys and market research.

What I wanted: speakers rich with life experiences they wanted to share, scheduled small groups times during the meeting and a dedicated informal “connecting” time after the event (not before).

What I didn’t want: loud music, free food/drinks and unstructured networking before the event.

How I measured success: 25 events total ranging from 10 – 45 people. 90% of attendees stayed 30 minutes after the events to mingle with each other. I made friends and partnered together in events to this day.

The shift for me happened when I stopped complaining about past examples and created my own solution.

Once networking became a lifestyle instead of an “event” the quality and quantity of my connections increased.

To this day I set a goal to connect with at least one person a week over the phone or in-person (that’s with a full-time job, plus email is too easy of an option).

Your career is more about who you know than what you know, but if you focus on improving bad experiences there might actually be a business idea waiting to be launched!

Bad examples will occur, but the question is: will it sour you or fuel you to change?

A Manager’s Secret Weapon (Yet Rarely Used)

Most bosses don’t get it.

Middle management’s main job is to manage people, not tasks.

Tasks need to be completed, but it’s how you manage your people that makes all the difference.

If your workers aren’t getting things done, the first finger pointed should be at you (the manager).

Have you clearly communicated your expectations? 

Are your people properly trained?

Are you putting them in a place to succeed?

Most managers don’t understand when the role changes, your responsibilities do too. If you don’t want to spend the majority of your time and energy dealing with interpersonal issues, don’t take the job!

I truly believe leadership skills can be taught to anyone, but that doesn’t make an effective leader. There are many traits that make a great leader, but the simplest one with the greatest ROI is:

Positive feedback.

Did you know it takes 5 positive comments to cancel out 1 negative one?

I wouldn’t worry too much about the ratio, except by saying your workers evaluate you. Performance reviews are held for employees all the time, but what about managers? Is your boss held to the same standards as the people they lead?  

If not, that’s a culture problem. Hypocrisy is the most visible sin in a business. It’s the one fault that causes morale to plummet and turnover to skyrocket.

If you work for someone else, you’re supporting another person’s dream. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that since not everyone can run a successful business. But when people don’t feel heard or treated unfairly it can signal the beginning of the end.

Managers who rarely dish out positive feedback are both insecure and focused on the wrong things. They haven’t bought into the fact their impact is determined by the team’s output, not theirs.

Being positive is similar to active listening. It can be taught, but usually if you don’t have it, you don’t have it.

The best leaders know metrics and data can only measure so much. Just like companies create a brand experience, managers create employee experiences. With power comes great responsibility; a willingness to model service to your team so it’s passed down to customers.

A positive comment can go a long way, but only if you actually say it.

What I’m Learning, But Don’t Enjoy It

I like to move fast. I hate waiting.

In an instant gratification world I’ll take the hare over the turtle any day.

If patience is a virtue, I don’t have it…yet.

Since no job or business is perfect, when things go wrong jumping ship is a regular thought, but rarely more than an emotional reaction.

Whatever obstacle you’re facing at work could be worse. #truth

A wise leader once said, “Don’t come to me with your problems, only come to me with solutions.”

That’s it: love the process.

When there’s a problem at work it’s easy to complain and blame others. You may be 100% justified too, but even if you’re right it won’t change much.

Instead, focus on what you are learning.

If you are being micromanaged, think about how you will lead differently given the opportunity.

If you are treated unfairly, do your best to take the higher road and respond with integrity.

If you’re given a task outside of your job description, develop a skill you can use in the future.

Loving the process doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. In fact you may NEVER love the process, but you can still learn from it.

If life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it, then there’s plenty of opportunities to learn from the process.

I get so focused on what’s next I forget to enjoy the present. What’s going on may not be fun, but there’s always something you can learn from in any situation.

In the past 6 months I’ve fired someone, put someone on probation and called out my boss.

Were they uncomfortable experiences? Yes.

But am I thankful I have them under my belt now? Yes.

What you go through prepares you for what’s next. It’s like collecting little nuggets along the way that will help you pave the road in the future.

Growth doesn’t feel good. It’s not supposed to be comfortable, but the opposite is being stagnant and slowly dying over time.

You may never love the process and that’s ok.

But at the very least learn from it and you’ll be better off for it.

How To Spot A Secure Leader

The title leader can be given to anyone.

But the term leader and manager are worlds apart.

Most managers were promoted because of seniority or selected because of their technical prowess. Two of the many wrong reasons to become a manager.

Micromanagers are so rampant because the wrong skill sets are glorified. Individual performance isn’t a clear indicator of potential leadership. Using a sports analogy, the best player on a team isn’t automatically the MVP.

The difference between a secure leader and an insecure manager is encapsulated in the following statement:

How willing are they to implement other’s ideas?

Working with youth was my first introduction to leadership development. I remember planning a 6-week summer camp. I came prepared to share the weekly topics I felt were best, but then it hit me, “in order for the youth to feel empowered I should choose their agenda (ideas) over mine.”

At the time I thought it was a subtle gesture, but it turned out to be the difference between recruiting teenagers and developing young leaders. Because I let them choose the topics, they put way more effort, creativity and were much more motivated to run a great program.

Back to the sports analogy. Imagine you’re the coach of an individually talented team. You’d think your job is to throw your team out there and just let them figure it out. Although that’s not a bad strategy, the better one is to identify the strengths of each player, then put them in a system that allows them to shine in a customized role. The coach’s job is less about managing talent and more about governing egos. Leaders allow their people to thrive because they’re focused on eliminating distractions so they can maximize performance.

A manager’s role isn’t to puff his/her chest out trying to be the best. It’s about serving the people under them by trusting their ability to make the best decisions. In the age of infinite information what gets lost is people are your greatest asset, not data.

The simple act of hearing your team out and choosing their ideas over yours will increase morale and retention tremendously.

Why is this act so powerful?

Because it takes a secure leader to know he/she doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room, only smart enough to empower the ones who make you look good.

What’s At The Core Of A Micromanager?

If you work under a micromanager (most do) it’s a matter of time before you leave your job.

But in order to cope and make the best of your current situation, it’s helpful to understand what makes a micromanager tick. To help lengthen your present tenure learning to manage your boss is key.

Micromanagers rarely ever change, but knowing how to deal with them provides some daily sanity.

Micromanagers have trust issues. Requesting autonomy from them as an employee is purely a nuisance. Micromanagers view freedom as a threat. Releasing power is a micromanager’s kryptonite. They want to know, communicate and oversee everything. Don’t expect praise, support or early information. Micromanagers view that as weak.

If you view micromanagers as bulldozers it’s because they are. Micromanagers see people as the vehicle to accomplish their tasks. If you’ve ever felt “talked-down to” or with a condescending tone that’s the voice of a micromanager. Remove them from formal conversations at work and their lack of social skills are evident. Position is said to be weakest form of leadership and in social situations micromanagers feel inadequate. Micromanagers overcompensate so heavily in the areas they feel competent in it’s glaring. Micromanagers will never be referred to as leaders, only as your boss.

Chances are your micromanager’s life is work. It’s their identity. They scoff at work-life balance because they see no need for it. Some will ask occasionally how you are doing, but they get uncomfortable talking about their own personal life since it’s basically non-existent. Who has time for hobbies, family, friends or fun when you’re working 80 hours a week? Usually micromanagers will hound you for staying on top of things, while they’re quite disorganized in their role. Do as I say, not as I do – that’s classic micromanager talk. It’s hard for micromanagers to show empathy because they don’t value it. Work comes first, second and third in terms of priorities.

Being under a micromanager feels like you’re walking on egg shells. Every time there’s an interaction, request or meeting you anticipate critical feedback (because it usually happens). Micromanagers have serious control issues. Don’t expect to grow or develop under their rule. Any hint of development is seen as a threat. Micromanagers are stingy with their praise because it signals a chance you might overtake their position. Micromanagers remind you frequently who’s in charge and crush your soul while they’re at it. Surround yourself with a strong support system to vent to or else you’ll go crazy.

At the core of micromanagers lie deep insecurities. Secure leaders don’t have to stomp on others to feel good about themselves. Even when something’s not your fault, they’ll still find a way to place the blame on you. One indicator of a true micromanager is the absence of apologies. They are quick to point fingers, but don’t take responsibility when they screw up. Leaders set their people up to succeed, micromanagers set their people up to fail. The unfortunate part of micromanagers is they are rarely equipped for the role. Most managers are vaulted into the position because of technical prowess or seniority. Little do they know what got you here won’t help you as a manager. Instead of trying to learn a different skill set, micromanagers choose the path of least resistance: do it my way or take the highway.

Micromanagement isn’t a disease, but a choice. And a choice you have to make is how long will you put up with it before leaving.

Are Great Managers Truly Unicorns?

The number one reason why people leave their jobs is because they feel unappreciated or under-valued. Translation: lousy boss.

One of the main reasons I’ve left all my past jobs is a terrible boss (best boss I had was as an entrepreneur – he was great, but the pay was inconsistent).

At the core is a skill problem. Let’s start at the bottom:

As a technical worker you are paid to produce results quickly. Once you prove yourself you move up to leadership. The issue here is what made you a great technical worker won’t help you be a good leader.

At the leadership (management) level your job is to bring out the best in your team. It doesn’t matter how well you performed at your previous role because the job description is completely different.

This is rampant in Corporate America because seniority normally equates to promotion. But most managers don’t know the first thing about motivating/treating people. Managers talk to their employees as if they’re stupid or incompetent. The disrespect is tolerated at first, but over time disengagement and morale drops.

Productivity keeps a business running, but poor leadership can halt growth. Companies with high turnover are similar to below par rated restaurants on Yelp. Even if you have a great product, customer service is what you’re ultimately judged on.

Most businesses believe treating the customer with the utmost respect is good enough, but when employees feel the cold shoulder of management internal strife starts to build. When the work environment becomes sheerly political the internal trust deteriorates and your best talent already has one foot out of the door.

I understand the argument from the company’s perspective that hard, objective decisions need to be made in order to scale, but you can still treat people well and get great results. People filter their perception of leadership through interactions. Once you feel unsafe as a worker, it’s time to start applying for jobs elsewhere.

That’s why when you do find a manager who cares about you, brings out the best in you and ultimately looks at his position as service treasure him/her. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it once in my career and during that tenure I felt I could do anything.

For some complete autonomy may feel like macro-management, so it’s important to understand what type of boss you thrive under. Culture is viewed as the thermometer, but core behaviors are the true temperature.

These days companies can pay you lip service about their environment, but only the employee experience truly defines what the culture is.

So if you have a great manager think twice about the grass being greener on the other side. Like grass most of the time if you turn it over it’s actually brown.

The Criteria You Boss Should Be Judged Against

There’s a hypocrisy when it comes to management being held accountable. Employees often claim to be micromanaged, but rarely are there any changes because it’s acceptable by executives.

Businesses determine decisions based on finances, but what happens when costs are offset by people quitting?

The ROI on employee retention is staggering. No matter how strategic the hiring process is once a worker is on-boarded it falls on the company’s side to make sure they have all the necessary training and skills to effectively do their job.

What’s lost in the boss-employee relationship is a measurement that doesn’t get the just due it deserves: motivation.

Most would argue people are self-motivated or not, which I would agree with, BUT the main factor why people leave or stay at their current role is: how their boss makes them feel.

People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.”

Maybe it’s overlooked because it’s not as sexy as performance or trackable as sales made. Those matter, but as you move up the food chain of Corporate America it takes less skill, more feel from managers.

Take the example of professional athletes. All have coaches, but how many of those coaches can outperform them? (Answer: none)

If that’s the case, why hire a coach?

For support and guidance during challenging times.

The more skilled the employee, the less they need to be told what to do or how to do it, but rather given the trust to get the job done and be judged on the results.

A manager affects the morale and engagement more than any other factor at work.

The level of morale and engagement directly drives performance.

Phil Jackson coached Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The reason he led them to championship and his predecessors before him didn’t was his approach. Jackson focused less on micromanaging them and more on challenging/managing their egos. Great players need great coaches.

Just because you were a great widget maker doesn’t mean a thing once you become a leader. Your job was to be the best, now it’s to bring out the best in others. Most managers didn’t learn this skill set and it’s the reason why so many workers complain about their boss and leave.

Think about the best and worst manager you’ve worked for. I bet on the high side they cared about you as a person. On the low side, they treated you as a cog in the wheel. At the core is how they made you feel.

Chances are if you love your boss, you see the glass as half full moving forward. But if you hate your boss, you’re actively looking for your next gig.

How does your boss make you feel? 

The Forgotten Part Of Networking

friends-at-work

Your network is your net worth.

The assumption is networking is done “externally,” but what if you actually like your job and don’t want to leave, yet desire to expand your network?

Do it internally.

Similar to sales: return customers have a greater value than new customers.

That means co-workers you connect with and strengthen bonds over time can be more instrumental to your career success than grabbing coffee with a new contact on LinkedIn.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m that guy who connects with people locally on LinkedIn and grabs coffee, but those relationships take time to blossom.

Meanwhile your work relationships have the potential to grow much faster because of the frequency and ease of scheduling.

Too often job satisfaction is determined by what happens to you, not what you initiate. Some opportunities are all about timing, but others are about choice.

Once you understand the company culture figure out how you can connect with people at work: grab lunch, go for a walk, chat on Slack, etc.

Most likely there are too many people at your company to talk with consistently, but that only makes the challenge fun.

  • Be the person who asks others how they are doing.
  • Instead of going on break alone take a friend.
  • Make it a goal to grab lunch with someone weekly.

At my company we’re fortunate to have catered lunches twice a week so that leaves three open days for me.

Some days I make phone calls and other times I need to decompress alone, but imagine how fulfilling your day is with a stimulating conversation!

As an introvert/situational extrovert I prefer quality over quantity…

Making networking part of your lifestyle versus a goal starts by doing it consistently.

The trick isn’t to keep “score” on how many people are in your network, but how often you network with others.

Make it a habit and watch your work fulfillment level skyrocket!

The Limitations Of Having A Growth Mindset

strong-brain

Do you have a growth mindset?

Having one isn’t good enough. In fact, I’d argue to say there are some limitations when it comes to this type of mindset.

The little engine that could(n’t).

I think I can. I think I can I think I can.

That little train did make it up the mountain, but then what? Believing you can is the foundation for any change, but that doesn’t equate to action. People are who they are. You can’t change that. Dating couples are told by therapists not to try and change their partner (because it’s not happening).

Poor listeners can learn how to actively listen, but they’ll always default to talking.

Micromanagers can be told to use empathy, but task accomplishment will always be most important.

Planners can be asked to be more spontaneous, but last minute changes will always frustrate them.

We are who we are. We can’t be anything we want to be; we can only be the best version of ourselves.

Talent is innate.

People can grow, but each person has different heights of potential.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, but if talented people work hard they perform better.

A talent is defined as something you have a natural affinity for. You and I are gifted in areas others aren’t. Once you identify your talents, they can be developed into strengths over time.

Talent is an advantage when used correctly widens the gap and separates us from the rest.

Focus on your strengths.

Less is more and when it comes to energy you should spend your time on what you can be great at.

With everything else ask for help or delegate to others.

There’s nothing wrong with learning new things, but if you have no passion for it, don’t align with the purpose or just aren’t good at it you’re wasting your time.

A growth mindset would say keep at it, but is that a good use of your time?

The best organizations have the right people in the right seat on the bus.

That means hiring specialists and letting them do work. Filling people’s plates with other tasks (outside of their talents) is diluting their strengths.

There’s nothing wrong with having a growth mindset, but when I hear people use that as a default response to everything challenging you’ve missed the point.

Attitude is crucial to everything we do, but at a deeper level self-awareness produces maximum results not having a growth mindset.