Leading from Afar: Get What You Need

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Leading from Afar: Get What You Need

memphis • 05.28.20 • 6:22P

 In the April, 2020 One World Concert  The Rolling Stones performed their 51 year old hit song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. As long as they’ve been making music together, it seems safe to say that the band might have done this song 10,000 times perhaps, between practice, recording sessions, and concert dates. Yet, when separated by distance (each of the 4 performers was in a separate location, perhaps their own homes) and combined by the magic of digital devices (Zoom?) the band members seemed a bit out of sorts, and willing to let Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood carry the load, although Charlie Watts did play some mean air drums throughout. So what, you might ask. 

The “so what” is that many of us at present are confounded by the same space-induced dilemma that faced one of the world’s most accomplished rock & roll bands: Together, we and the people on our teams know the music, the lyrics, and generally how to put them together, but it’s as if, when visually separated, and we cannot see the conductor’s baton or hear the lead singer’s voice in real time, we’re uncertain as to if and how to proceed. 

Please, write this down somewhere:  “It’s not, (repeat, not) about the device the software, the technology.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-technology, at all. It has its place. But at root level, communication isn’t about the device, digits, or the electrons. Rather, it’s about making meaning, and doing so at the proper time, sequence, and in a fashion that works best for the parties involved. Here are 3 things we’re encouraging remote leaders to do that will make things go a little better, if not easier;

Amp Your Communications Skills

Start by realizing that communication is more, much more than opening your mouth your laptop, or browser and just emoting. There are important elements like sequence, pace, and listening, really listening. Awkward as it may be, we need to get over our reluctance to tolerate some dead air space when conversing with others…….. You see, when our mouths fly open the instant that the other person shuts up, it’s a pretty good sign that, rather than listening, we’ve… just… been… waiting.. to… talk. 

We should also realize that good communication is about making meaning, not just pushing content into the ether. When you’re separated by proximity with your other party or parties, it takes real work to gauge how effectively we’re really making meaning, on BOTH ends, as opposed to yapping and waiting to yap. For openers, a lot of us need to get better at taking quick time-outs in our conversations and presentations to check for meaning… time for asking questions and being patient enough to shut up and listen.

Get Good With Crayons

One point that we made in our first Contented Cows book is that, because people have so much coming at them, we’ve really got to simplify the messaging. In his book, Beating the Street, former investment guru, Peter Lynch, who ran Fidelity’s Magellan Fund for a number of years and made people a lot of money said that if you couldn’t explain what a company did and how they made their money with a simple blunt instrument, a crayon, then you didn’t understand it well enough to own it. That same principle holds true for us as leaders. If we can’t explain in credible, compelling fashion, to our team with that same box of crayons, where the organization is going, why it’s going there, what it stands for, what their roles are, and what’s in it for them, then people aren’t going to buy in, in which case, we’re just another damn supervisor.

You MUST Care

Most leaders tell the folks on their team that they care about them. The good ones do more than tell… they back it up; by taking a sincere interest in each teammate’s agenda, their life plan. What do they want to do when they grow up? What are their hopes, fears, aspirations, accomplishments? And some of you are thinking, “Gosh, Isn’t that a lot of investment for somebody who’s only part time or a temporary member of the band?” Of course it is, but do you want them to invest in you and your gig or not? Do you want them to Commit, with a capital “C” or just mail it in?   

Good leaders encourage the folks on their team to grow, to stretch, to take some risk. But those gambles don’t always turn out well and sometimes they crash and burn. In those moments, we get another chance to back up this caring stuff by taking heat for them, by laying down on the tracks and getting hit by the train so they don’t have to. Or, by bending the rules for a deserving person. And, you’ll get beat up for that, too. But people notice that stuff, and they appreciate it, and most of them return the favor, in spades.   

If you care about people, you show up, in person when they’re having a tough time… If you care about them, you tell them the truth… If you care about them, you don’t let anybody abuse or humiliate them, ever! Good leaders also demonstrate that they care by making sure that their team doesn’t have to work with turkeys. If someone on the team isn’t cutting it, or clearly doesn’t belong, they act, because they realize that one of the meanest things you can do as a leader is leaving someone at the end of their rope, twisting in the wind.

Stay Relevant

Speaking of twisting in the wind, a lot of us are in danger of doing that at present. I would pose the question, “Are we learning and changing quickly enough to meet up to the task ahead?” I worry that most of us are not, and I include myself in that. In fact, the one thing that scares the bejesus out of me is that my pace of learning won’t keep up and I’ll become irrelevant.

Our suggestion is that each of us be serious, deliberate, thoughtful, and determined to take steps that will ensure that we remain relevant, as people, and professionals. Read more (and different), meet some new people, get a coach, attend some webinars, better yet, teach one, or, take a lesson from Charlie Watts and learn to do an air-drum handshake. 

Though you won’t always get what you want, “if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”