A Thin Line Separates Leaders from Followers

“As I discussed options for resolving a major issue, I realized that my team was divided,” a manager said to me.

“What is your position?” I asked.

“I have an idea but I’m not too confident.  I’m sure the vocal members of my team oppose my view.”

“Have you clearly stated your position?”

“Probably not. At this point, I guess I’m inclined to go along with the strong voices on my team.”

Should leaders listen to their team members?  Yes.  Should leaders voice their positions?  Yes.  Should leaders persuade and be persuaded?  Yes.

Then how do leaders handle divisions created by muscular voices promoting contradictory solutions?  This dilemma, I believe, is the thin line between leading boldly and following aggressively.  Persons in leadership positions who simply strive to get in front of a parade are not leaders.

When facing critical issues, often more complicated than the tax code, real leaders birth their own vision and create their own parade.  They may observe, listen, consume data, consider several alternatives–even encounter multiple failures—but their passion, regardless of obstacles, promotes their unique dream.

Leaders who are blessed with insight plus high moral and ethical standards lead us to greatness.  Leadership that is absent of moral and ethical standards take us down a rabbit hole.


How the Word “Because” Increases Your Influence

“Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine?”

“Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

In a famous study by Ellen Langer and others appearing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, sixty percent of the persons in line complied with the first request.  Ninety-four percent complied with the second request.  Why?  The second request contained the magic word “because” which triggered giving the reason.

Best-selling author, Nancy Duarte, says that most do a good job of explaining what they want.  But they are pretty inept at explaining the “why.”

For example, “Could you complete this environmental audit, using the attached spreadsheet, by Friday?”  The “what” is clear (environmental audit) and the “how” is apparent (attached spreadsheet).  But the “why” is missing.

When asked about the missing “why”, the manager said, “The reason is obvious.  Failure to document could result in consequences.  The other party may or may not have been aware of the manager’s assumption.

Increase your persuasion by ensuring that the word “because” is part of the request.  For example, “Could you complete this environmental audit, using the attached spreadsheet, by Friday because we need the documentation to prove compliance to the auditors?”


Five Steps in Transitioning to Remote Work

(Part 5 of 5)

The COVID-19 pandemic will no doubt accelerate the already fast-moving trend of working remotely; but if you are still transiting employees to laptop freedom consider identifying:

Tasks. Work done on computers can be performed in outer space if there is an internet connection.   Customer service jobs were among the first to go remote; but purchasing, accounting, human resources, medical records, and education are moving out quicker than ever.

Employees.  Very gregarious individuals and those who drift to social media when the boss is out may not be good candidates.  Conscientious performers with great keyboard skills will likely produce wherever.

Policies.  Enact clear and practical work policies for the former 8 to 5’ers.  Does the job require instant availability during work hours?  Or, is it OK to mow the lawn at 2:00 p.m. and complete job tasks at 2:00 a.m.?  Are pets allowed near remote workstations?  Spouses?  Children?

Tools.  Ensure that all remote workers have the proper apps for video conferencing, collaborating and chatting.

Transition.  Allow individuals to work offsite one day a week for six months.  If things go smoothly, transition to two days . . . three days . . . full time.  

Like death and taxes, remote work is here to stay.  Companies who demand worker presence 40-hours a week will likely be left with low efficiency producers.


How to Ensure Effective Meetings of Remote Teams

Ten minutes into a remote meeting, unusual sounds began emanating from Walsh’s monitor.  A participant wrote in the chat room, “Walsh, you need to mute your mike.  You have some nasty things going on there!”  Walsh remained unaware as the video images of other members revealed obvious attempts to refrain from laughing out loud.

Guidelines for effective remote meetings include:

Purpose.  State an objective, such as:  The objective of this meeting is to _____.  Add an agenda of 2-4 topics and send to participants at least one day prior to the meeting.

Structure.  Define the meeting date, time (account for time zones) and length (30-60 minutes.)  If some team members are physically present, require all to participate as if they were remote.

Etiquette.  Even with professionals, establish meeting rules such as:  mute mikes when not talking, leave your video on, look into the camera, avoid distractions (noisy jewelry, folding papers, barking animals) and multitasking (texting, emailing, taking calls).

Training.  Train all members on the features (file sharing, chat rooms, white boards, polling, recording) of your video conferencing software.

Engage.  Begin with 3-5 minutes of informal talk among members.  Ensure that every member has a responsibility—report on an action item, comment on another member’s suggestion, provide status updates, respond to periodic polls.

Follow-up.  Make summary notes (Consider recording the meeting and making it available to all staff members.) and distribute them by the end of the day.



How to Ensure Accountability of Remote Workers

(Part 3 of 5)

“I’ve allowed four of my staff to begin working remotely two days a week,” commented a manager, “but I still worry that some may spend too much time, gaming, mowing their lawns or taking kids to the park.”

Some managers hover over remote staff by employing rigid work schedules, screen checks, end-of-day-work reports, and time logs.  Such practices are more likely to alienate than to engage employees.

Several companies successfully employ some version of a “Results-Only-Work-Environment” (ROWE) where employees are paid for output—as indicated by KPI’s, metrics, dashboards, checklists, proof-of-work—rather than hours worked.

Fortunately, apps such as Sococo, Slack, Asana and Basecamp are very efficient tools for allowing managers to “trust but verify” remote worker collaboration and output.

One manager reported, “In our Monday video conferences, I ask team members to list six or seven of the most important tasks they wish to finish.  The following Monday we review the lists.”  Between Monday’s the manager and team members rely on the Sococo app to cooperate on challenges, surprises, updates, and whatever.

Bottom line—if you cannot trust your employees to work when you are not watching them, you probably need to get different employees.



How to Close the Communication Gap with Remote Workers

(Part 2 of 5)

“I worried that I was missing out on something,” explained a newly-remote employee.  And surveys confirm that remote workers are more likely to feel left out.  Suggestions for closing the communicate gap include: 

Rules of Engagement.  Select, from the large pool available, communication apps (Zoom, Slack, SKYPE, etc.) and agree on:  the best times to contact each other, preferences among texts, email, phone, video conferencing, and a schedule for group and one-on-one (1:1) meetings.

Accessible Materials.  Make appropriate files and materials available to all team members at all times via a sharing app such as (pick one) Basecamp, Dropbox, Wrike, etc.

Periodic Video Conferences.  Replace regular, onsite-meetings with (weekly or biweekly) video conferences.

Structured 1:1 Check-Ins.  Schedule daily (or weekly) 1:1’s with each team member to confirm common purposes. 

Virtual Water Cooler.   Adopt a chat room app that allows team members to visit with anyone about anything at any time—personal news, vacations, latest movie, customer issues and whatever.

Remote Social Parties.  Schedule quarterly remote social events such as:  meet our pets, pizza parties, video games, vacation tips, and the like.

Face-to-Face Time.  Bring the team together for discussions, planning, and/or team building at least a couple of times a year, even if some have to travel from far-away-places.

In time, most remote members will feel as “connected” as if they were in the same building.



How to Manage a Remote Workforce

(Part 1 of 5)

“Although I was unsure how the shutdown would impact my work, it only took me a few days to get comfortable working from home,” commented a long-time employee, and I for sure don’t miss the forty-minute commute and the scramble for parking.”

Although you may not have noticed, working remotely (from home, a co-working space, a coffee shop, or anywhere in the world) has been trending for several years.

More than 40% of us worked remotely at least some of the time prior to COVID-19 and that number has more doubled in the last 15 years.

Dell reported $12 million savings a year in less office costs, and Global Workplace Analytics calculates that companies can save more than $10,000 per person annually by allowing employees to work anywhere.

As remote working benefits both employers and employees, the trend will likely increase.  However, being out of the office does introduce leadership challenges.

Some managers fear that employees being out of sight will also develop into being out of mind.  Concerns about work measurement and accountability arise, communication and collaboration become more critical, and remote workers report feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Future blogs offer suggestions for managing a remote workforce.