A New Model to Explain Remote Leadership

Guest post, by Kevin Eikenberry

Most people will agree that leading people from a distance (also known as remote leadership) feels very different from the way we’ve always worked in the past. It’s easy to point to factors like a lack of eye contact, or the inability to get answers to questions in a hurry to demonstrate the point. But how different is leading remotely, really? A new model may help answer that question.

In the book, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership Wayne Turmel and I created a model to help recognize what’s changed—and what hasn’t—about the way leaders and project managers get their work done.

First, let’s take a look at the model itself. It’s essentially three gears of various sizes grinding to get work accomplished. Here’s what it looks like, taken from the book itself:

The Leadership & Management Gear

The first gear symbolizes the thinking and behaviors leaders need to exhibit. The leadership thinker Peter Drucker stated that not a lot has changed since the building of the pyramids when it comes to motivating, managing, inspiring and leading people. Think about the job of the manager, regardless of where they are in relation to their people. They need to help create a vision, set expectations, delegate tasks… the job hasn’t changed just because the employees are working from home or another location. What leaders do is the same as it’s always been.

The Tools & Technology Gear

What’s changed so radically over the last 30 years is how leaders and their people communicate. We are still expected to inspire people, but often can’t see the look in their eye. We want them to believe us when we communicate, but they can’t read our body language or hear the excited tone in our voice when all they get from us is an email. While there are more communication tools available to us than ever before, many of the tools aren’t as effective as good, old-fashioned, in-person conversation.

Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t get our message across or receive critical input. It does mean we have to use the right tool for the right job. If we are choosing to send an email, rather than pick up the phone or get on a webcam because it’s easier and faster, we’re actually choosing not to use the right tool for the job.

In the research for The Long-Distance Leader, we found that confusion over the available technology and a discomfort with the way we interact through them are big factors in making remote leadership more uncomfortable and stressful.

So, we have a job that’s always been difficult, and now we’re doing it in ways in which we’re uncomfortable and possibly misusing or not using the right tools. This is where a great deal of the drama and stress come from. But that’s not all.

The Skill & Impact Gear

If the first gear is what managers do, and the second gear is how we do it, the third gear is how well we use the tools at our disposal. There are a couple of stunning statistics. One study done by MIT/Sloane says that while 80% of managers say that tools like WebEx, Skype for Business, Slack and the like are “mission critical” to working remotely, only 15% or so (particularly of senior managers) feel that they are “confident and competent” using that technology.

Additionally, there’s evidence that 80% of users utilize only 20% of a given tool’s capabilities.
That’s a problem. Leaders have a hard job. We have to be smart about the tools we’re using and leverage that technology. If we don’t we’re essentially working with one hand tied behind our back.

So why is this model important? It shows us three critical truths:

1. The job of leadership itself hasn’t changed much. Rule #1 of The Long-Distance Leader is, “Think leadership first, location second.”

2. We must be mindful of using the right tool for the right job. This may not be our preference (it’s always easier to send an email than have a tough conversation on the phone) but smart decisions will make us more effective.

3. We must leverage the power of the tools we have at our disposal. This may involve training, coaching and practice, which is often seen as a waste of time. Over the long haul, it’s an investment in productivity and effectiveness.

The 3-Gear Model is only one of the ways The Long-Distance Leader hopes to demystify the challenge of managing and leading people and projects from a distance.

About the Kevin Eikenberry

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.

Kevin’s most recent book, co-authored with Wayne Turmel, is The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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Dr. Chip R. Bell is a world-renowned authority on customer loyalty and innovative service. Global Gurus ranked him in 2018 the #2 keynote speaker in the world on customer service; #1 in North America. He also is the author of numerous national and international best-selling books including Take Their Breath Away, Managing Knock Your Socks off Service, Magnetic Service, The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service and Customers as Partners. His books have been translated into over a dozen languages.

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