Remote working is certainly part of the business landscape for the foreseeable future. Across industries and geographies, executives are facing new challenges and need to develop new skills to be effective managing on-site and remote teams.
Interestingly, a recent article from the BBC has found that the skills that help executives thrive in office environments, don’t always work when leading remotely. According to the article there is new data that shows, “the confidence, intelligence and extroversion that have long propelled ambitious workers into the executive suite are not enough online, because they simply don’t translate into virtual leadership. Instead, workers who are organised, dependable and productive take the reins of virtual teams.”
The study from Journal of Business and Psychology was conducted before the pandemic, but has obviously taken on new significance in the past year. Remote teams are more likely to follow leaders who demonstrated “doing” leadership traits rather than “saying” leadership traits. The study looked at more than 200 US based teams with remote, on-site, and hybrid setups.
In-person teams sought out leaders with, “confident, magnetic, smart-seeming extroverted traits”, while remote teams looked to, “doers, who tended towards planning, connecting teammates with help and resources, keeping an eye on upcoming tasks and, most importantly, getting things done. These leaders were goal-focused, productive, dependable and helpful.” In some situations the study found remote teams responding to ‘emergent leaders’, those without formal authority but recognized by team members as leaders.
These findings are not surprising in the sense that, when you remove the face-to-face interactions, personality leadership traits are lessened, and functional leadership skills become more important to teams. When you work remotely, the old saying, actions speak louder than words, is true. Yet in both situations leaders need to develop trust and inspire their teams, but how they do so is different.
As you know, rarely do you manage in one scenario or the other. In the real world everyone tends to work in a hybrid setting. Whether that is a team that spends a few days in the office and a few days at home, or a team working across multiple offices with chat and video tools to communicate, when the personal interactions are not there, the probability for miscommunications increases. Think of trying to be humorous or sarcastic in an email. The context or cues are not the same as when it is done in person.
This is not to say that the idea of the ‘natural leader’ who has built their executive career on strong interpersonal relationships is going to become obsolete. However, they will need to build on their personality traits to be an effective leader with remote teams. The same is true for the emergent leaders who will need to develop skills to manage in-person if they hope to be a successful executive.
If you’d like help developing a culture that builds executive teams who are capable of managing on-site and remote teams successfully, let us know. Our executive recruiters would be happy to help you hire or train your executive team to thrive in the hybrid environment we find ourselves in.