The True Test of Your Leadership Skills: Overcoming Communication Barriers and Leading Your Team While You’re Away

The true test of your leadership skills is being able to lead your team while you’re away from the office.

Ever gone on a conference while your team was in the middle of an ongoing project? Your team has been with you for years, so obviously they know what needs to be done, right?

But when you came back, you discovered that things didn’t go as well as you hoped.

What happened?

Yes, your team probably knew what to do. But that may be because you were always there to guide them every step of the way.

While you were gone, the point-of-contact you assigned—if you did assign one, that is—lacked the leadership skills necessary to keep the team together. Plus, the communication barriers involved in leading a team from a distance doesn’t improve things.

When the Cat is Away, the Mice will Play

Not every leader is equipped with the skills necessary to lead their team from a distance. You’ll need the right mix of business communication skills and leadership skills to overcome the communication barriers inevitable while managing people from across states (or continents).

You can learn and perfect these skills though. As I’ve traveled the country doing workshops and consultations, I have honed the skills and system needed to make sure my business doesn’t fall apart when I’m away:

How to Keep Your Team Organized and Productive, Even When You’re a Thousand Miles Apart

  1. Manage the Change of Pace and Schedule: Before you leave, make sure your team knows your schedule and the time zone where you’re going. This sounds obvious enough, but the number of complaints I read online about missed calls and emails at 4 AM show otherwise.

Give your team a schedule of allowed call and email times, so they don’t disrupt you while you’re at an important meeting or send an important time-sensitive email when you don’t have time.

  1. Practice Your Team’s Decision Making Skills: Hone a promising team member’s leadership skills, so you can assign him to be the point-of-contact when you’re away. Teach him your business communication skills for dealing with your team and clients so he can command people’s respect while you’re away.
  1. Establish an “On-the-Road:” Communication System: If you’re used to conducting team meetings in-person, you need to learn how to do it in a different medium. Test several alternatives before your departure, such as video conferencing, emails, teleconferences and chat.

Account for communication barriers, such as body language not translating well in audio-dependent medium, and lack of intonation in email.

Don’t let lack of time or difference in time zones to prevent you from catching up with your team. It’s important, now more than ever, to keep your team accountable and on track of their work. The tendency to slack off is high, even if you leave someone in charge, so show them that you’re still on top of things.

  1. But Don’t Be Too Paranoid. Trust Your POC’s Leadership Skills: Yes, trust your team, too. It’s tempting, but don’t call them every hour. Some managers try to overcome communication barriers by insisting their team write lengthy reports, even for menial tasks. Please, don’t do this!

Excessive reports and monitoring is a sign of poor leadership skills. Leave clear instructions for each task, and have the team report their progress at the end of the day. That’s it.
Yes, all this might be obvious too you. But it’s often the obvious that gets forgotten. Besides that, finding the balance between ‘letting go’ and enforcing your word is a difficult balance to maintain.


© 2015 Incedo Group, LLC

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