The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership

The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership

by Kevin Eikenberry, Wayne Turmel
The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership

The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership

by Kevin Eikenberry, Wayne Turmel


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Leadership First, Locations Second. As more organizations adopt a remote workforce, the challenges of leading at a distance become more urgent than ever. The cofounders of the Remote Leadership Institute, Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel, show leaders how to guide their teams by recalling the foundational principles of leadership whether their teams are scattered globally or just working from home a few days a week.

The authors' "Three-O" Model refocuses leaders to think about outcomes, others, and ourselves—elements of leadership that remain unchanged, whether employees are down the hall or halfway around the world. By pairing it with the Remote Leadership Model, which emphasizes using technology as a tool and not a distraction, leaders can navigate the terrain of managing teams wherever they are. Filled with exercises that ensure projects stay on track, keep productivity and morale high, and build lasting relationships, this bookis the go-to guide for leading effectively, no matter where people work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781523094615
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 06/05/2018
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,068,379
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Kevin Eikenberry is founder and chief potential officer of the Kevin Eikenberry Group. He's been named one of's Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and is the author of several books, including Remarkable Leadership.

Wayne Turmel is the cofounder of the Remote Leadership Institute and the author of many books, including the Association for Talent Development's 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations.

Read an Excerpt


What We've Learned about Long-Distance Leaders

Rule 1: Think about leadership first, location second.

You cannot manage men into battle. You manage things; you lead people.

— Admiral Grace Hopper

Eric is a solid manager and has had a traditional team in place for five years. Lately, he's been dealing with people working from home several days a week. On the surface everything's fine, but as he told us, he spends too much time worrying about what he doesn't know, or what might be happening, rather than the work itself. He second-guesses himself more than ever and feels less confident in his decisions. As he said, "So far so good, but for how long?" There are a lot of people like Eric.

If you're reading this, you agree with us that doing "okay" or "not terrible" isn't nearly good enough. Leadership is aspirational; no one who picked up this book wants to be merely average or normal. You want to be an excellent leader and, if possible, to achieve that with far less stress than you're experiencing now.

When we started looking at the day-to-day challenges faced by Long-Distance Leaders, we had a pretty good idea of what we'd find — after all, we've worked with dozens of organizations and thousands of people over the last few years. Still, we wanted to quantify what's happening in the world and check our assumptions with measurable data. That led to our Remote Leadership Survey.

In 2017, we conducted a voluntary survey of more than 225 managers who have at least part of their team working remotely. Admittedly, this is a small sample size, but the results bear out what we're hearing every day. If we were looking for shocking results or data that came out of left field, we didn't find it.

What we did discover is that the challenges for remote leaders very closely mirror those for managers in any situation, and that the majority of leaders report that things are ... okay. Not perfect — things could always be better — but certainly not the-place-is-about-to-collapse awful either. There are also signs that as part-time teleworking increases and more companies change to a remote labor force, the cracks we did find will only grow.

The survey highlights challenges that arise because of the distance between people and the use of technology to bridge those gaps. As you'll see in a moment, that makes perfect sense, and it confirms that what we are experiencing with our clients isn't unusual. The data points out what needs to be done to prepare leaders for a new way to work and to help develop the skills required to do the job well.

Here is what we learned.


* The managers crossed every possible industry and discipline. Government and sales accounted for 11 to 12 percent each, and even with seven categories, 46 percent of respondents were "other." This is an important point — leading remotely is a fact of life not limited to specific industries or disciplines.

* The size of teams is changing. Of the respondents surveyed, more than half had teams of ten people or more, 25 percent led two to five people, and 21 percent led six to ten people (figure 2). This is slightly more than the average of direct reports under the same roof and may indicate a new trend toward broader spans of control, which only exacerbates the challenges of leading remotely.

* "Remote teams" doesn't mean everyone's working elsewhere. We often think of remote teams as either wholly remote (everyone is scattered to the winds) or co-located. In fact, over 70 percent of leaders said they had a "hybrid" team, with a 50-50 split between teams with full-time and part-time remote employees. The other 30 percent had a completely or mostly remote team (figure 3). This is by far the fastest growing segment of the workforce. Failure to address this now means more stress down the road.

* Other demographic data. Respondents were 60 percent male, 40 percent female, and they were an experienced bunch: 34 percent were aged forty to forty-nine and 37 percent were fifty to fifty-nine. A surprising 19 percent were over sixty. This makes sense since 78 percent of them had been managers for eight years or more. This confirms an important point: time as a leader doesn't seem to make the transition to long-distance leadership any easier.

What's Going On out There?

We reached a group of experienced managers, across multiple industries. Yet when we asked, "How's it going?" the answers were strangely in accord. Here are some examples:

* Over half say they "get the job done," and an additional 28 percent say their team is "highly productive."

* When asked, "Where do the productivity challenges lie?" 10 percent say the problems are with remote members, 4 percent say they are with the "home team," and 69 percent say there's no pattern to it or it's hard to identify the roots of the problems.

* Trust runs a little below productivity, and while most managers say the level of trust is okay (both between themselves and individuals, and between the various members of the team), there are more problems reported here than anywhere else on the survey. The largest part of our respondents say that trust levels aren't awful, but it's a gap worth working on.

The Biggest Worries

Finally, we asked specific questions about challenges these leaders face. We presented four common questions remote leaders often ask themselves and The feedback we received is shown in figure 4.

The first question gets asked most frequently when working remotely is new, or in organizations or industries where trust is traditionally low, including highly regulated union environments and government. Based on our experience, senior leadership is overly worried about precisely what people are doing at any given time. Notice that remote leaders are more worried about the last three questions, which are more personal.

What Are People Afraid of?

On the surface, it sounds as if everything is generally fine. You have experienced people feeling pretty good about the people they lead, and the work is getting done. What's the problem? But when you explore the written comments, you see the cracks in the armor, and they echo the concerns we hear every day.

* "With people around the world, it's become impossible to 'turn off.' I'm connected 24/7/365."

* "We aren't efficient at meetings. Too many people check out or don't participate."

* "There are divisions between the remote people and those who work in the office."

* "We don't see many engagement or performance challenges until it's too late."

* "We're great at getting work done that's properly defined and scoped.

It's coming up with new ideas, dealing with surprises, or implementing new things that create problems."

* "Focusing on the urgent vs. the important is hard enough, but you don't know what others are focused on."

We could go on, of course, and we'll share more comments and stories as we go, but here's what the data says to us.

* Leaders are making things happen in this new environment because they are working longer and harder. They want to succeed in the virtual world, but they're doing it through effort and guesswork. We believe there is a better way.

* Although many organizations are starting to plan for teleworking (with policies and support) and training their remote leaders, the planning lags behind the reality. Leaders are trusting their instincts and doing the best they can, yet they aren't finding the support they need in existing company training or general business literature.

* They lack confidence in themselves. Phrases like "I'm never sure ..." or "I worry about ..." pepper the comments. This uncertainty undermines effectiveness and adds to the stress of a new and unfamiliar work landscape.

* Experienced leaders sometimes struggle with technology. As psychologist Jean Twenge says in her book iGen, experienced leaders are used to a different way of working. Though many of the things that enabled their success are still relevant, there's a feeling that they're working with one hand tied behind their backs and struggling to connect with younger, more tech-savvy employees.

* Generally, those new to leadership roles are comfortable with technology but lack fundamental leadership skills.

Some Important Things to Remember

As you read through the rest of this book, here are some important things to think about:

* Remote leadership, while becoming far more common, has always existed. It can be done well, and you can do it.

* Leading at a distance is still leading — and while there is far more that has remained the same, the differences must be acknowledged and addressed to have the success you want and your team deserves.

* The skills you need to communicate, influence, build strong working relationships, and engage people can be learned, developed, and replicated throughout the organization, but only if you understand the dynamics at work and identify the skill gaps to mindfully address them.

* It's not just you. The very questions, doubts, and concerns that brought you to this book are simultaneously challenging millions of other smart, talented, dedicated — and exhausted — leaders.

Pause and Reflect

* What are your biggest concerns or challenges about leading at a distance?

Online Resource

If you'd like to take the survey for yourself, go to

and add to the data we're collecting to help other future leaders.


How We Got to Long-Distance Leadership

Rule 2: Accept the fact that leading remotely requires you to lead differently.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

— Henry the IV, Part 2 by William Shakespeare

Being a leader has never been a simple task. The struggle to be effective, to achieve your (and your organization's) goals, and help the people you lead reach their destination is constant. It's a challenge, and you've accepted, so get on with it.

Patty is one of those leaders. She's worked with the same team for three years, with everyone in the same location, and a big part of everyone's social activity revolves around work. Two years ago, people were allowed to work from home if necessary — snowstorms, sick kids — but now half the team is out of the office at least three days a week. There is no plan, no standardized processes, and her training has always involved face-to-face communication over everything else. Also, she's not terribly fond of technology and relies too much on email. As a result, she's holding off communicating until everyone's all together, but that is leaving some people out of the loop or with information that isn't timely. It's frustrating, and she has asked us, "How did this happen?"

It's easy to discount the challenges of the way the workplace works today, especially the impact of distance and technology-enabled communication, and just focus on what has always made leaders effective. After all, Genghis Khan ruled half the known world and never held a single WebEx meeting. The sun never set on Queen Victoria's British Empire, yet there's no recorded instance of a single conference call. It's not like others haven't done it before us, and there is no reason we can't do it more effectively, productively, and with less stress. Discounting or diminishing the problems doesn't change the fact that there's been a fundamental change both in the way people work together and how leaders are expected to communicate. As Patty has noticed, and her company has yet to address, this change has had a profound impact on leadership behavior, attitudes, and results.

When Genghis had to communicate an order, there were real live people in front of him, professional clerks who carefully wrote down his words and then passed those commands on down the line. When you need to communicate change order to your project team, how often do you stare out at a sea of empty desks (or the strangers in the Starbucks where you are working) tapping out instructions on your phone, wondering if the team will understand and heed the directive?

It may have always been lonely at the top, but now we're literally, physically, by ourselves much of the time. When Queen Victoria grumbled, "We are not amused," the person she was scolding stood in front of her and knew she meant it. They couldn't slough it off with an "LOL" and a shrug emoji.

In fact, the world of work has changed a lot in the last quarter century or so. Here are some of the ways it used to be:

* The number of managers, team leaders, and others who sent their own written correspondence was very low. Above a certain level in most organizations, letters and documents were created by assistants, clerks, or other trained professionals. At the very least, such communication was checked by someone else before going out into the world. You didn't (and couldn't) simply hit "send" or "reply all."

* Email didn't exist for most people. Some of us can remember our first email accounts. We couldn't access them except by computer (usually at work), and there was no guarantee that your intended audience had access to that tool either. Now it's probably the number one form of business communication (and the most complained about).

* Most business communication that wasn't face-to-face was done on the telephone.

Less than fifteen years ago, the percentage of time people spent talking on the telephone outweighed the time spent reading and writing email significantly. Now the time spent on those activities has reversed, and the trend continues.

* Most team leaders, supervisors, and managers had the people they worked with in a single location, or within easy physical reach. Only leaders at the regional level and above in large companies had to worry about managing people remotely. Leadership development and training assumed a lot of face-to-face contact. That may not match your reality today, and most leaders say they haven't received sufficient (or any) training in the real dynamics of leading remote and hybrid teams.

And there is more that has changed over that twenty-five years ...

* Today, according to the Project Management Institute, 90 percent of project teams have at least one member (usually more) who aren't co-located with the rest of the team.

* An increasing number of project teams and task forces are made up of people who don't report to the same manager. The leaders of these matrixed teams must influence and lead people without being their boss or having traditional reporting relationships.

* Today, nearly 80 percent of white-collar supervisors have at least one direct report who works in a different location — at least part-time. This includes everyone from colleagues on the other side of the world to a team member who has decided to work from home one day because of the weather. Either way, they aren't sitting within arm's reach of you or each other.

* Social media and electronic communication have changed how information (or disinformation) spreads, and how quickly. It used to be that responding to a request took at least enough time to dip the quill in ink and handwrite a response, drop it in an envelope, and ship it across the ocean. Or the person communicated with you directly.

The important thing about all these numbers is that it drives home how much things have changed in terms of how we do our jobs. There are two major repercussions for leaders as a result:

* The communication methods that enabled us to succeed (if we've been around for a while) have changed. You may be terrific in a face-to-face meeting ... but how many of those will you have today? Maybe you're a great listener, but if Bob in Dallas only communicates with you through email, that strength is negated, and it begs the question whether the two of you are really working as effectively as you could and should.

* The notion of a leader's sense of isolation is no longer simply emotional. You're not only lonely because you have the sole responsibility for decisions, or the weight of authority, or feel responsible if people lose their jobs — you're often actually physically alone.

First, you need to cut yourself some slack. After all, if you've been doing this job for a long time, the things you're expected to do and the tools you're expected to use have changed considerably in a short period of time. If you're new to the role of leader, chances are the people who mentor and teach you aren't familiar with working the same way you do. This is still largely uncharted territory.

Before, when you made a decision, asked a question, or gave direction, you looked in the other person's face, or at least heard their voice. You could tell if you were understood or if they agreed with what you were saying. You had real-time feedback so you could coach, answer questions, or change course quickly. If you needed answers, you got them immediately. You even occasionally got a smile or a "thank you" that made you feel good. These are just some of the real emotional rewards that can come with being an effective leader.

But now, some of the rewards may be missing. Like Patty, it feels as if you're working in the dark, unsure what's happening, operating largely on faith (even when you don't have much), and doing it all in ways we and our predecessors have never done before.


Excerpted from "The Long-Distance Leader"
by .
Copyright © 2018 The Kevin Eikenberry Group.
Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership vii

Introduction 1

Section 1 Getting Started

Chapter 1 What We've Learned about Long-Distance Leaders 9

Chapter 2 How We Got to Long-Distance Leadership 17

Chapter 3 What It Means to Lead at a Distance 23

Section 2 Models That Matter

Chapter 4 The Remote Leadership Model 37

Chapter 5 The Three O Model of Leadership 43

Section 3 Achieving Outcomes at a Distance

Section 3 Introduction 59

Chapter 6 Types of Outcomes 65

Chapter 7 Setting (and Achieving) Goals at a Distance 73

Chapter 8 Coaching and Feedback at a Distance 85

Section 3 Summary 103

Section 4 Engaging Others

Section 4 Introduction 107

Chapter 9 The "Golden Suggestion" for Working with Others 109

Chapter 10 Understanding Politics without "Playing Politics" 115

Chapter 11 Understanding and Building Trust at a Distance 121

Chapter 12 Choosing the Right Communication Tools 129

Chapter 13 Technology Tips for the Long-Distance Leader 135

Section 4 Summary 148

Section 5 Understanding Ourselves

Section 5 Introduction 151

Chapter 14 Getting Honest Feedback 153

Chapter 15 Your Beliefs and Self-Talk 161

Chapter 16 Setting Reasonable Boundaries 165

Chapter 17 Setting Personal Priorities 171

Section 5 Summary 175

Section 6 Developing Long-Distance Leaders

Chapter 18 Questions to Ask about Developing Long-Distance Leaders 179

Epilogue Before We Go 189

Notes 192

Suggested Reading 196

Acknowledgments 198

Index 200

About the Authors 209

About Our Services 211

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