Why Remote Leadership Doesn’t Work

Stone Age versus Digital Age Leadership. Guess Who Wins?

Leading a team of people can be challenging in the same physical space; doing it digitally across geographies and time zones with cultural and language differences brings a whole new set of challenges.

We are programmed through our evolution as a species to value trust and loyalty. Ten thousand years ago we trusted the members of our tribe: a small band with whom we had close personal contact. The tribe survived through sharing warmth, food, water, security and emotional comfort.

Although we do our best to function with the complexities of our digital world and global organizations, we do so with a brain that is, at least in part, programmed for Stone Age survival.

As Nigel Nicholson concisely puts it:

“We may have taken ourselves out of the Stone Age, but we haven’t taken the Stone Age out of ourselves.”

We push ourselves to the digital edge of what we can handle, and there are times when we lose control and things go astray. (More on evolutionary psychology.)

Ever sent a quick email that was completely misinterpreted? Thought you’d understood each other in a phone call but didn’t? Communication is one of the most important leadership qualities, and it ain’t always easy.

How about trying to read body language across a Skype call? Or discussing emotionally engaging topics in a second language? Making hiring or firing decisions over the phone? Leading by example or inspiring people on a conference call?

Accidental Communication

Huge amounts of communication in an organization are accidental — at the coffee corner, the water-cooler, over lunch or in the conference room before the meeting starts. These chats are part of a bonding process to build relationships, trust and loyalty.

There is a popular view that 70% (or more) of communication is non-verbal. Body language speaks volumes, as it were. Face-to-face communication is vital.

Leading from a distance is almost a contradiction in terms. You might have remote teams, but you can’t have remote leadership. Leadership needs to be physical, personal and up-close — at least part of the time.

The secret to leading a remote team? Make it less remote. Get on the plane. Catch the train. Hop on the bus. Grab a cab…

…Reduce time & distance to near zero.

That’s what I think…what do you think?


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