3 Leadership Myths That Hinder Success In A Remote World Of Work

Remote Leader

As the world of work becomes increasingly remote, leadership capability needs strengthening to drive success in the new digital environment. Here’s how organisations can improve their leaders of today – and develop those of tomorrow – to fuel growth.

Strengthening leadership capability to drive business success

This year, perhaps more than any in recent memory, has laid bare many of our assumptions and beliefs about work and organisational behaviour. Beliefs about having to go to the gym to work out (thanks Joe Wicks!) Accepted wisdom about needing to be in the same physical place to get work done. Assumptions that the leadership style that has worked well up to now, will continue to serve you well in the future.

My experience has shown me that whilst leadership concepts like coaching are commonly known and talked about; the subject of what makes a ‘good’ leader is so often misunderstood and contains a number of ‘myths’. These myths are unhelpful in the modern workplace as they hinder people’s growth potential and the organisation as a whole. 

In the uncertain times we now find ourselves in, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world of work for the long term. More people are working remotely – and leaders must adapt their styles to keep apace in a remote environment. We therefore must do away with outdated leadership concepts. Before we can move forward, I’m going to address the three most common myths I’ve heard during my time working in leadership development and what we can do to change misconceptions for future growth.

Leadership Myth #1 – Leading remotely is the same as leading in any other context 

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Firstly let’s take a look at the statistics. According to ONS, In April 2020, 46.6% of people in employment did some work at home. Now, that figure is closer to 60%. So more than half of the UK’s adult, usually office-based workforce, are working remotely. This may not be so temporary, either.  Future Forum research of 4,700 knowledge workers found the majority “never want to go back to the old way of working. Only 12% want to return to full-time office work, and 72% want a hybrid remote-office model moving forward”.

No problem though, we can carry on as usual…or maybe not.

Why remote working requires leaders to adapt

Leadership depends greatly on context, and depends not so much on the industry you are in, but more on the needs of the situation and of those you are leading. People’s needs have changed, as the need to work from home has increased – for some, it’s become the primary way of working, whereas it was once seen as an occasional ‘perk’.

Strong in-person leadership skills, at least the ones we’re familiar with – like extroversion, confidence, empathy and charisma, don’t necessarily translate to being a good remote leader. There is evidence to show that leaders who are more action-orientated, dependable and organised ‘do-ers’ are more effective at leading remotely. This means – instead of being inspirational and dynamic – what remote leadership needs in order to be effective are leaders who get things done, help their team with tasks, keep on schedule and focused on goals.

You can’t just ‘talk the talk’ – you have to walk the walk too.

Remote teams are likely to need more:

  • Instant communication: think brevity and frequency over too much detail. Consider changing your internal communications to accommodate this – such as adopting messaging and team channels like Slack or Teams to communicate in a more informal yet direct way. Also consider short video updates and clips.
  • Acknowledgement: times are hard and unusual, especially for those not used to working remotely. Be generous with praise and acknowledge smaller tasks and wins that contribute to the overall project goals and milestones.
  • Empowerment: let team members who are naturally introverted and great at managing tasks, demonstrate their organisational and leadership skills with more autonomy. Give them a chance to shine and lead on key projects.
  • Emotional and social support: regularly check in on your team to see how they’re doing. Not like big brother’s watching to check they’re actually working – but genuinely showing care and empathy for their wellbeing.

“The ascendance of ‘worker bees’ to remote leadership roles may provide to the legions of hard workers who have watched charming colleagues rise to the top. In other words, virtually, the emphasis shifts from saying to doing. This discovery is timely, as most of our workplace in-person teams are now all or partially digital operations in the wake of the pandemic.”

Leadership Myth #2 Leaders need to be ‘well rounded’ and good at everything

Business Group Photo

“The well-rounded high performer is a creature of theory world…the best people are spiky”

Marcus Buckingham, Best Selling Author

Humans have often been described by anthropologists as ‘pack animals’ – we thrive on hierarchy and look to a leader of the pack to keep the social order, the leader usually being the one displaying the most dominant traits – think alpha males and alpha females. 

This idea of strength and dominance feeds into the social constructs and myths we have around leadership – of our leaders being both dominant and strong, having all the answers, in control. So in our work environment, we want to believe that our leaders have ‘everything under control’. However, the ‘super hero’ / ‘alpha’ leader is a floored idea.

Here’s why:

Fundamentally, if you’re a leader striving to ‘excel in all areas’, then you are not getting the best from yourself or those around you.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Furthermore, there are significant downsides of trying to cover all bases and be the ‘exemplary’ leader:

  • You fail to delegate and empower others: we know this is crucial to foster a culture of innovation and transparency. When you fail to delegate and empower your team to make their own decisions and use their own initiative, you  become a bottleneck for decision making. This slows down your service, innovation and progress.
  • You struggle to really connect with people: staff want their leaders to be approachable. The best companies create a culture built around trust and innovation. When trust erodes, psychological safety reduces, and psychological safety is key to encouraging transparency. If people feel reluctant to reveal mistakes or weaknesses, they’re less likely to feel creative, and less inclined to take risks or come up with new ideas in fear of rejection. This is a significant barrier to innovation, not to mention employee wellbeing given the rising issues around mental health.

Leadership Myth #3 Working on weaknesses is critical to being a great leader

Strengths and Weaknesses

The term ‘weakness’ comes with all kinds of negative connotations. So much so that people often avoid the term and use ‘development area’ instead. We need to come to terms with what weaknesses actually are, because they are not necessarily ‘development areas’. 

The assumption hidden in here is the notion that we must focus on addressing all our weaknesses and seek to improve them. A smarter approach would be to focus our efforts on our core strengths – making those even better. This starts with really understanding your strengths and weaknesses in the first place, and knowing where to prioritise your efforts.

So our advice here is to play to your strengths and do what you do best everyday.

Playing to your strengths is about getting clear on what you are really good at, and understanding what people most appreciate about you.

You can make a start by defining your leadership style in your own words, and learn to focus where you have most impact. Some ways you can do this:

  • Notice tasks that you are energised by. What capabilities do they relate to? These should be the areas where you have most impact
  • Identify any learned behaviours that drain your energy. They can be the best things to delegate
  • Be deliberate about what strengths you need for critical tasks and draw on them to get things done
  • Nurture your strengths. Strengths are there to be enhanced not just exploited

To be clear, a critical weakness cannot be compensated by a strength, no matter how strong it is. If you have a persistent gap in your capability that is important in your job, then you need to address that first before focusing on making the most of your strengths.

Your key steps towards becoming a better leader in a remote world of work

To be a more effective leader, make sure you have a better understanding of your own unique strengths and capitalise on them; then address your most important individual weaknesses. Finally, understand and tap into the strengths of others.

Whilst the rapid shift to remote work has created new challenges for leaders and businesses the world over, the great thing is there is an opportunity to experiment with creative solutions and new ways of working, to support your teams in this remote era. But this means adapting and changing your own leadership style to being more action-oriented, and handing over the reigns to your organised ‘do-ers’ in the team.

Final Thoughts

At My Leadership Strengths, we’ve developed a 100% online, leadership self-assessment and development tool called QPT which stands for ‘Quick Prioritisation Tool’. It helps leaders and aspiring leaders to assess where their leadership strengths and gaps are, and focuses on which strengths to further develop. With the increase in remote working, each member of your team or organisation could complete the QPT with a view to prioritising strengths and helping to adapt your leadership and working styles for the benefit of yourselves and the company you work for. Learn more about the QPT here, or alternatively, contact us.

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