Leadership Means Speaking Up

I know it sounds like a cliché but if you can’t say what you mean, you can’t mean what you say. To be a leader means to be clear with your expectations and feedback. You need to communicate in a way that doesn’t leave room for guessing. As I wrote in this article one of the most difficult things in management is to do no harm to the people we lead. We are hurting our teams without realizing it by withholding feedback, being too nice, and not being clear with our expectations.

You need to provide feedback

Feedback is critically important aspect of good leadership. You need to be able to listen to feedback on your own performance and decisions to build credibility and improve in the future. And you need to be able to give feedback to others to make sure they focus on the right things, produce at the top of their capabilities, and grow as human beings. You need to provide feedback in a way that won’t create an impression that you are questions their competence and that you are not confident in their ability to get things done. At the same time you need to be crystal clear in your message so it is received the way you intended.

You need to show that you care

For others to truly listen to your feedback they need to believe that you are on their side. They need to feel that you are providing the feedback because you care about them as human beings and you want to help. If they believe that you are just trying to demean them, put them down, or show off your ego, then your advice won’t be accepted regardless of the feedback approach you use.

You sometimes hear from managers “it’s business, nothing personal”, but that is a delusion. The moment you touch someone’s life of course it gets personal. As a manager you need to realize that and be able to connect at the emotional level.

You need to challenge

As a boss it is your responsibility to let others know what their business goal is and to challenge them if you feel they are not performing or not going in the right direction. Not addressing obvious performance issues is the most common mistake managers do. Even experienced managers often prefer not to say anything when they see a problem rather than addressing it directly. Why? There are various reasons but the most common ones are the fear of damaging relationships, spoiling the atmosphere in the team or becoming unpopular.

Radical Candor framework

Kim Scott came up with a nice framework she calls Radical Candor. The idea is anchored around the concept of Caring Personally and Challenging Directly. When people believe you care about them personally, they will accept a very direct candid feedback from you and will be more willing to act on it. They will be also more ready to provide similar candid feedback to you and even to each other. They will ultimately feel valued as human beings which will help their motivation and performance.

Kim Scott talks about what happens when one or both of these dimension are lacking. When you provide feedback directly to someone without caring about them, your guidance feels obnoxious and aggressive. It may work sometimes but ultimately this makes you a jerk and it won’t work long-term.

The worst example is when you don’t care about others and don’t challenge them directly at all. This usually happens when you just want to be liked and you don’t care whether the job gets done or the other person gets better. You can always blame them behind their backs, right? This approach is manipulative and insincere and shows that you care only about your own well being and nothing else. You are failing miserable as a manager.

The last example are situations where you actually do care about the person but are afraid or unwilling to provide direct feedback. You are so worried about short-term discomfort the feedback would bring that you rather keep quiet and exchange it for long-term suffering. You can see it on examples of parents who love their children so much that they are unwilling to discipline them when they do something wrong. As a natural consequence the kids don’t even know they are doing something they shouldn’t and thus never get better.

You need to be responsible

Leadership means being responsible. And being responsible means that you do the right thing even though it may make you unpopular and make people angry. In fact, if no one is ever angry with you, chances are you don’t challenge them enough. You might be a people pleaser and not a leader.

I will adapt an anecdote from Kim Scott’s work about training dogs. What do you do when you want your dog to obey? Do you endlessly explain that it is in their best interest to sit on our command and how to do it? No, you provide a simple command that is not prone to interpretation “sit!” As Kim says, the command “is not mean, it is clear”.


What are your thoughts on responsibilities of a leader when it comes to providing feedback and clarity? Would you take the risk to hurt someone’s feelings if the reward would be the person gets better? Or do you think there are better ways to do this?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.


Introverts: How To Be A Leader

At the very beginning of this series about introverts I described the basic difference between introvert and extrovert “Introverts: Who Are They?”. Last week I talked about how introverts survive in today’s corporate environment “Introverts: It Is All A Game”. Today, I would like to dig deeper into how to lead a team of people comprised of both introverts and extroverts (as is usually the case) and how to do it when you are an introvert yourself. At the beginning, I strongly believe that it is easier for introverted person to lead these mixed teams than it would be for extroverted person. You as an introvert have one advantage, one skill that is not easy to learn: you know how to listen and you can adapt your strategies based on the feedback you are hearing or seeing more easily. And since leadership is a rather broad topic let me focus just on the basics.

Setting the goals and following up

The very first difference in how to handle introverts and extroverts comes as early as in setting the tasks and following up. While the actual task may be described the same way chances are that extrovert will ask for clarifications immediately on the spot while introvert may need some time to think it over in quiet and will have questions later on. This is especially applicable when it is being done in a group setting. When you combine this with the fact that introverted person will be easily discouraged from asking if you are not approachable, you can get into trouble. The best thing for you to do is to follow up regularly to create opportunities for questions.

One-on-one follow up is anyway a great way how to manage your team. If it is difficult for you to talk to bigger teams then create opportunities for you to meet the members individually or in smaller groups. This will give you a chance to act more naturally in introvert-friendly settings.

When having a meeting with your team you may find it difficult to “be in charge” and talk all the time. One of the tricks here is to make a virtue of your ability to listen and give others opportunity to learn and lead. You can, for example, decide to have a rotating meeting moderator who will be forced to speak more and keep the structure of the meeting while you can listen more and have more time to prepare for your contributions.

Providing feedback

Any corrective or developmental feedback is better provided in private regardless of personality type. For most introverts the difficult part is figuring out how to start a difficult discussion and the body language they exhibit. You may know what you want to say, but it is equally important, if not more, the way you say it and how you behave while saying it. You need to project confidence and be firm in your assessment and the next steps. I love the 3F acronym (Fair, Firm, Focused). You need to be fair in your dealings to keep open mind and ability to listen. You need to be focused, again trait that should come naturally to introverts. And you need to be firm. Good rehearsal would help you polish your talk and feedback from a trusted friend, some role-play, or practicing on video can help you identify quirks in your body language that may betray the message. Make sure you focus on what you want to say, you look the other person in the eyes, you keep your voice leveled, you don’t fiddle with your hands, and you sit straight but comfortable. These are the basics that should get you through. And if the other guy gets emotional and aggressive? Have one or two sentences ready for this eventuality as a way how to end the meeting gracefully and quickly. You want to treat people with respect and dignity and you expect them to do the same. The moment someone starts shouting you need to calm him down before continuing and if you know that you cannot handle it then have a way out.

If you want more tips and tricks on how to provide feedback and build some confidence you may check out “Now, How May I Help You?” and “Confidence – The Basis Of A Strong Leadership”.

Recognizing achievements

Curiously enough this might be sometimes even more difficult than providing corrective feedback. If you are an introverted leader you need to recognize that people need different levels of encouragement. In my experience introverts prefer more individual and private recognitions while extroverts want to bask in the spotlight on the big stage (exaggerating here a bit). Getting people stand up on company meetings and list all their achievements and even ask them to say something witty is a great way to recognize extroverts, but it would traumatize introverted person. And vice versa, heartfelt thank you in a small round of closest team mates is a great way to recognize achievement of introverted person while it would feel rather an empty gesture to his extroverted friend.

Leading by example

For a manager it is important to being heard. When you say something you want to make sure the message is received. I have met many people who seemed really quiet at the first glance but when they spoke everyone listened. Why? Because they spoke only when they had something to say. Everyone knew that and so everyone listened as there was a piece of wisdom coming. The lesson here is that don’t force yourself to speak for hours when you have content for minutes and when you know you don’t have the skills for long speeches.

And what is the shortest way to be seen as a leader even when you are not the loudest person in the room? You lead by example. No need for many words and being in the spotlight. Just get in the trenches with your team, be one of them and the leadership won’t feel so out of your realm of comfort. And luckily enough it will be seen as a sign of strength of your leadership. You show that you are not afraid to get your hands dirty with the actual work.

Dealing with the chatty ones

How do you find your voice when chatting with a fast talking extrovert? How do you ensure he doesn’t run you over with a fast talk and animated body language? You reset the rules of the game. You demonstrate that it is ok to pause and be quiet for a minute. A simple pause followed by a short statement with question that needs the others to think can get the discussion to a pace you can cope with. Of course your body language and tone of voice needs to send the same message. You need to look like there is no rush to finish the whole conversation in thirty seconds.

And what if you encounter the endless orators who never know when to stop their story? Again, for an introvert it may be rather difficult to stop other people from talking and so you can use a simple time management trick. Keep reminding them what time it is. “Let us discuss this topic, I have 15 minutes to do it.” and as you go through it bring it up again and again “OK, so here we are, we have 10 more minutes, how do you want to use them?” In these situations it is completely acceptable to interrupt the person if he starts moving to unrelated and irrelevant topics and put him back on the right track. If he is your direct report you probably want to make this very explicit and define this as a development need for that person. You define that the person needs to be able to go more to the point, don’t get distracted by side-topics and focus on the point he is training to make.

What is the key lesson? Keep in mind that most of the things you perceive as weaknesses and obstacles for you to become a strong leader can be nicely turned around to become your strengths. Just spend some time to think about it and try it out.

Twitter type summary: “Introverts make great leaders. It is all about confidence and relying on your strengths while finding workarounds for your weaknesses.”

How do you lead others if you are introverted person? Do you distinguish between leading introverts and extroverts? What are your strategies?

It Is Personal, Even When It Shouldn’t Be

It’s all about appearances. If you work hard and focus on your tasks and your tasks only in the hopes your superior will recognize the achievements and helps you to the next level you are mistaken. At least most of the time. There certainly are great managers and leaders who recognize the potential in their subordinates and provide the opportunities where the employee can prove they can do the job but most of the time you need to be a bit more pro-active if you want to get to the next level. And when you have a remote manager who doesn’t see what you are doing every single day then this applies even more. So what do you do to make sure your boss recognizes your contributions and helps you to the next level?

Image matters

Doing a great job is important but it is not enough. You may be the best software developer or tester in the world but if no one knows about your work then no one can recognize your achievements and appreciate of what you are doing. A bit of self-promotion never hurts if done carefully. In fact, in some cultures it might be even expected. And if you feel like you don’t want to promote yourself you may ask your team mates or informal leaders to help you out here. Some managers even have the habit to finish their team meetings by giving kudos to team members who achieved something significant and also asking anyone from the team to speak up if they want to recognize some of their colleagues.

Being honest with yourself

Are you sure that the way you see yourself is also the way how others see you? Are you sure that the work you did is really that significant and worth recognition and promotion? Are you sure that you understand what shortcomings are holding you back? Most of us tend to overestimate our own achievements and contributions and marginalize the achievements of others. And as I wrote in Human Brain, The Biggest Liar Of All Times our memory doesn’t really help here. So before you start complaining that you were once again skipped for promotion be honest with yourself and look deep down into your inner self whether the problem is outside of you or whether it is something internal you should work on.

Getting feedback

The best way to learn how others see you is to get feedback. How to do that? There are tons of different ways starting with anonymous surveys and ending with actually talking to people and asking them for their honest opinion. The important aspect is to pick the right people you ask. It should be people that have at least one of these qualities: you respect their opinion; they have been in your shoes; they genuinely want to help you; they know you; they know your work; they are very different from you; they are your bosses, peers, subordinates and saw you in action; they have nothing to lose by being honest with you. And if you still don’t know how to do it you can always ask for help either your HR department or some close friend who will be able to gather the feedback for you and then will be brutally honest with you.

Having a mentor

When you know what your strengths and weaknesses are then get a mentor. Find someone who you respect for the particular skill you want to build and ask him for help. Most of us are happy helping others and sharing our experiences and wisdom. You may ask your HR department to help out, you may ask your boss or you may just actively seek someone by yourself. And depending on what skill you want to build you may look even outside of your company. When you ask HR department then ask for several options. The worst thing that could happen is that you get an official mentor that you don’t respect or where there is no chemistry or enthusiasm. Such a mentoring would be waste of time of both of you. If you find a mentor within your company and ideally also somewhere up the ladder it may help you tremendously as he or she may not only teach you a trick or two but may become your advocate and share your accomplishments with the rest of the management team. And that usually means higher visibility and more opportunities.

Building alliances

Don’t leave all the work to others. Regardless your position in the company you should always do all your best to help others. Make it a point of knowing people not just from your department but also from other groups, make it a point of greeting everyone in the company, be positive and willing to help out others even when there is no immediate reward. Give credit to others and do your best to promote the good job done by others. Why? This is the way to build alliances. This is the way to truly understand the business, to expand your horizons, to get your name out there. Next time there is a discussion about who should lead a cross departmental project, guess who will be on top of everyone’s mind.

Getting back on your feet

And what if for whatever reasons your reputation took a hit? We all make mistakes, and do or say things we would rather take back. Just don’t get too much attached to your mistakes. Get up, dust yourself off and forget that it ever happened. Others will forget in time too. And what if even after a long period of time and numerous successes there is still a shadow of that past mistake lingering above you? You have two options. First, confront whoever still holds the grudge with the new reality and ask what more you can do to show that you have learned from your mistake. Second, consider whether it is really worth your effort to try to prove that you changed to someone who doesn’t want to see it and possibly leave for a team or organization that is more open minded.

Twitter type summary: “You might be the best of the best at your job, but if no one knows then no one will recognize your achievements.”

What are your thoughts on hard work and recognition? How do you ensure that you understand who the best people on your team are even when they work remotely?

How to deal with broken promises

If you manage people I’m pretty sure that sooner or later you will encounter a situation where your employee will promise to do something and then fails living up to his promise. And it is not just your direct subordinates, it might be your peers, bosses, spouses or kids. How do you deal with such situations? And more importantly how do you address it when this behavior repeats?

When you look at reasons why people don’t deliver on what they promised you can find a plethora of excuses. Why did you come late? – There was traffic; Why didn’t you deliver the report? – There was too much work; Why didn’t you finish on time? – There were unexpected circumstances. These are all just excuses, ways to mask the real problem in the background. It may be issue of ability to get the job done, it might be question of motivation or as mentioned by Kerry Patterson in Crucial Accountability it might be a question of pattern that was set previously by accepting this behavior.

Set expectations

It all starts a long time before the first issue pops up. When you are building your team make sure you spend enough time with them and that they are used to getting both positive and corrective feedback from you. If people know that you have their own good in mind they will be more receptive to anything you say and it will be much easier for you to address any issues. If the only time you talk to your team is when you have something negative to say you won’t be able to create safety and people won’t receive the feedback well.

The best way to prevent the need for dealing with broken promises is to set the right expectations at the beginning. Explain what you expect to get done, explain what sort of behavior is and is not appropriate and explain how you want to work together. However, if all these things don’t work and you get to a point when corrective feedback is needed you should jump right into it and address any issue as soon as it emerges. The moment you start tolerating unacceptable behavior you are essentially getting silent permission and it will haunt you down the road.

Create safety

The key part of providing corrective feedback or having an unpleasant discussion is to treat the other person as a human being. It is important to understand and accept their goals and them as people. You should never have that sort of discussion in front of other people. You don’t want to humiliate anyone, you want to be helpful and provide guidance for improvements. You also want to be sincere in this effort. If you go into the discussion with having only your own good in mind you will fail. You need to search for a win-win situation. You want to make sure that both your goals and the goals of the other individual are met at the end.

You also need to be transparent. If there is issue to be addressed then say so. Don’t try to sugar coat it or hide it behind some hyperbolical metaphors. If you feel that directly addressing the issue you may come across as personally attacking the other person use contrasting to calm the other person down. You may say something like this:

“I would like to give you some feedback. In no way am I trying to punish you or make you feel inferior. My goal is to ensure you understand my concerns and that we work together on addressing them.”

Address the issue

The first time you observe behavior that is not acceptable you should address it on the spot or as soon as convenient for both sides. Don’t interpret. Just state what you saw and explain the natural consequences of what happens if the behavior persists. This shouldn’t be in a form of threat but rather creating the big picture of what are the consequences for the person, for you, for the team. If you want to make sure that you don’t sound threatening use questions rather than statements.

“I just saw that you taking two chocolate bars instead of one. Do I understand it right that you planned to have both of these for yourself? The agreement was that each team member gets one chocolate bar to make sure there is enough for everyone. If someone takes two then chances are someone else will be left without any. Please, keep this in mind and I expect that next time you will follow the agreement.”

Address the real issue

What happens if the person repeats the same behavior even after you had provided the feedback and he agreed not to do it again? Having the exactly the same conversation for second or third time will most likely not help. Chances are that the person is just not taking it seriously and you need to get it to the next level. It is not about the original issue any more it is about larger issue of not following on his promises.

“I just saw you taking two chocolate bars again. I believe we agreed you will not do it again. Did I get it right that you took them for yourself even when you promised not to do it again? I feel like it will be difficult for me to trust you in the future if you wouldn’t keep the promises you give me.”

At this stage chocolates are not the issue anymore and it is about the fact that the person broke his promise and that is the behavior you need to correct. And once again you may describe the big picture and the natural consequences if he continues to break his promises. It might be that he won’t be trusted with important tasks, will not be able to get to leadership role and will be seen as unreliable by his colleagues.

Address one issue at time

Always focus on the most important issue. If you start piling up too many different issues you will dissolve your message and will not have the impact you intend. The person can then take the easy round and correct one of the less important issues so next time you talk he will be able to use it as a weapon and say that he corrected at least something.

So in our “chocolate bar” example it is obviously still an issue that he took two bars instead of one but it is nothing compared to the fact that he broke his promise to you “not to do it again”. So if he tries to get the discussion back to chocolate, don’t get derailed and keep it at the “broken promise” level. It will have much more powerful impact and will prevent many similar issues in the future.


It is important to provide follow-up feedback and especially acknowledge positive change in behavior. If you can show to the person that you see also his strengths and that you observed he improved the problematic behavior chances are it will further reinforce the message and drive even more improvements.

If you want to learn more tricks on how to provide good feedback check out “Now, how may I help you?” article.

Twitter type summary: “Always address behavioral issue as soon as you see it by providing direct feedback and explaining natural consequences.”

How do you deal with broken promises? How do you ensure that people get the feedback and deliver on their promises next time?

Now, how may I help you?

How do we learn? How do we grow and become better? How do we learn that we did something wrong? By getting good and helpful feedback. When you are in leadership position you are expected to provide that feedback to your team. How do you do it? How do you give the right feedback in the right way? It all depends on what outcome you desire. There are many ways how to provide feedback but you can divide them into two categories based on what you want to achieve: feedback to motivate further development and feedback to correct undesirable behavior.

Feedback is not food

Most leaders like to practice so called sandwich feedback. In fact, it is the way how most of the leadership training courses would teach you to provide feedback. You start with something positive to build rapport and for a person to start listening, then you say what needs to improve and then finish again on positive side so the person feels good. You need to be very careful with this type of feedback. It may work in the developmental settings when you want also to motivate but it will not work when there is a real issue to be corrected. The danger of sandwich feedback is that by obscuring the corrective message between two positive ones you may hide it too much and the recipient will just not get it.

“Hi John, what a beautiful watch you wear today and isn’t the weather just great? Look I just saw your report and I think you could use a bit more organization and summarize the facts a bit better. But I really appreciate the effort you put into it and the formatting and colors you used are great. Just continue the great job.”

… ehm, is this the way to provide useful feedback? If you were John, would you know what to improve? In fact, would you feel you need to improve anything at all?

Developmental feedback

There are situations when you want to provide feedback to someone to develop his skills. His attitude is good, he is generally motivated to do the job but lacks on necessary skills. The intention is not to stop some undesirable behavior but to build new skills. For that it is important not only to provide insights into what the person needs to improve but also to provide encouragement so he or she wants to improve and leaves the conversation energized and ready to implement your feedback.

The way to achieve it is to end up on positive note that helps the person to feel good about the progress and about himself. You need to build the self-esteem of the person while not hiding the areas he or she needs to improve. This is the way evaluations at Toastmasters work (http://www.toastmasters.org/EffectiveEval).

“Hi John, thank you for coming. I was just going through your report and want to give you my thoughts on it. I can see you put lots of effort into it and I appreciate it. The way you are able to pull all the data together is just phenomenal. Now, how can I help you to make it even better next time? To get the most of the reports I would suggest representing the data in a form of a graph next time so the trends are more visible. I would also like to see executive summary at the beginning so I don’t need to go through the whole report unless there is something that catches my eye. I can see huge improvement from last time so focus on the graphs and the summary and you will get your reports to the next level.”

You may skip the last sentence, as it essentially makes it a sandwich, and instead offer help in a form of “If you are still unsure on how to make it better feel free to come to me with questions.” That way you make it half-sandwich which is more direct and in healthy environment is all what is needed.

Corrective feedback

Sometimes you don’t need to develop a skill or provide feedback on how to have reasonably good work even better but you want to give corrective feedback on behavior that is simply unacceptable and needs to be stopped or changed immediately. This is no time for sugar coating it or beating around the bush. It is also the most difficult type of feedback you may need to provide. So how do you approach it? By being very direct to drive the message home. You need to be very clear to ensure that there is no misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what you are trying to say.

“Hi John, I just saw your report and it just sucks. I told you several times and you never listen. It is just bad and you need to re-do it right now. Put some graphs there, summarize better and don’t come to me unless it is perfect. Don’t screw it up as always and for once just get it right.”

… ehm, very direct, very confrontational and most likely very inefficient as John is probably still not sure what he needs to change, plus he will most likely become defensive and not able to improve anyway. What he will most likely get from this ranting of yours is “My boss has a really bad day. There is nothing wrong with my report, he just doesn’t know what he wants.”

How to say it

To make the feedback direct and at the same time useful and “receivable” is to follow couple of basic rules

  • Know your team – it all starts days or months before you provide the feedback. If the person you want to give corrective feedback knows you, if he or she got some positive acknowledgement in the past and if you talk to them regularly and not only when you are unhappy there are more likely to receive your feedback
  • Make it safe – you need to ensure that the person is able to listen to what you are saying. You need to create environment when the person understands that you are not attacking but you want to help.
  • Use contrasting when needed – a nice method to help creating safety is to explicitly say what “you are not doing”; for example “The last thing I want is for you to feel angry about this. My goal is to give you helpful suggestions so you can grow at this company.”
  • Describe what you see but don’t interpret – never generalize and never interpret. You are not telepath so always talk only about what you observe. To achieve this use “I” instead of “You”. “You” often feels judgmental or patronizing and can put the other person in defensive position. It is better to describe everything in first person.
  • Don’t exaggerate – words like “always” or “never” should be never used as they generalize, will make the person defensive and will detract from the point you are trying to make
  • Describe impact on the person or on the team – sometimes it may help to reinforce the message to show the big picture and get the person to understand the natural consequences of his behavior. You are not threatening, you just want the person to understand how his behavior impacts his future, the team, the company.
  • Focus on future – don’t talk too much about past and don’t demand explanations of “why” as it will just lead to pointing fingers and finding excuses.
  • Don’t repeat the same point several times – that feels like nagging and at the end may dilute the message; say it once and as clearly as possible
  • Listen and get commitment – try to understand the position of the other person to make sure you are fair and at the same time you want to get commitment from the person that he or she will improve. It is also important to clarify anything that may be unclear and open to interpretations.
  • Create ownership – follow up is really important but you shouldn’t own it. If you want to create ownership by the person he or she needs to own also the follow up session.

“Hi John, thank you for coming. I wanted to talk about the report you gave me yesterday. There are couple of areas that I feel needs to be improved next time. I see you were able to gather an impressive amount of data and when I was going through it I had really hard time getting oriented in all the numbers. I feel some graphs would help and I’m also not sure whether I understand the implication of the data. What do you think about these observations?… [here you give John a chance to comment so it is more of a conversation and you are building ownership of John to include the graphs next time, maybe clarifying what type of graphs and how many] …This sounds good. So to summarize it, next time you will include couple of graphs to illustrate the most important trends and you will also include a short executive summary at the beginning. I want to help you to get it perfect, so can you get on my calendar one day before the next report is due so we can review the draft together?”

When to say it

Say it now! If you want your feedback to have the right impact you need to say it as close to the event you are commenting on as possible. In most cases it should be immediately after you observe the behavior you feel needs to be addressed. The only exceptions are when the person receiving the feedback or yourself are in emotional turmoil. If you are emotional you won’t be able to give a good feedback and you are likely to cause more damage than good. And the same applies if the recipient is emotional. Then you may want to postpone it to ensure that when you are giving the feedback it is being received.

Twitter type summary: “When giving feedback always keep the desired outcome in mind. Is it about corrective action or building self-esteem?”

What is your favorite way of providing feedback? What did work for you and what didn’t?

So you’ve got a remote boss. Tricky…

We live in a super connected world where organizations span across geographies and cultures. Every day in the office we meet colleagues, partners and customers using technologies such a phone, email, video conferencing and we must learn how to work with them even if not sitting face to face. One of the most challenging situations is reporting to a remote manager. How do you make the most of such arrangement? How do you ensure you are really connected and you get job done? How do you ensure your boss understand what you are doing and can appreciate your efforts? In “So you’ve got a remote team. Tricky…” series of articles (Part I., Part II., Part III.) I talked about how to manage remote teams, and today I will look at the same problem from the other side – how to be managed remotely. It should be no surprise that it all boils down to good communication. What do you communicate about?

Keep him in the loop

If someone sits at the other side of the world it is obvious that he or she cannot really follow what you doing on daily basis. Your boss just cannot stop by couple of times a day to ask how you doing and help you out. You need to make sure that he gets the necessary information that he would have access to when sitting in the same location and provides the necessary guidance. What usually worked for me was to have an agreement with my boss (or my team when I’m in the manager role) that I will keep him in the loop on anything that is big enough that he might be interested in it, he may need or he may be asked about by other people. And the mantra here is “more is better than less”. I would keep him in cc: of my emails if the topic could be of interest to him and at the same time I make it pretty clear that I don’t really expect him to read it. The idea is that he will have the information available on short notice when he needs it even if it is in the middle of my night. This way he can also praise, provide feedback, and all that without the burden of micromanaging.

I used to have this agreement with my first manager at Siemens. I would keep him in cc: of the emails that could be relevant to him but he wouldn’t read it unless I flagged the email as important. For the rest, we would meet once a week and use his unread emails from me as a guideline of what has happened during the week and talk about it and answer questions. The advantage for him was that at any point he would have easy access to data when asked for it by his managers or business partners. Similar approach would be to use some collaboration website and keep the data there, though that means more conscious effort.

Ask for clarifications

When you get a task make sure you understand it. The most performance issues in global teams come from the fact that the goals and expectations are either not set at all or are set too vaguely and both parties have a bit different understanding of what the outcome should be. So when you get a task from your boss you can do two things to ensure you really got it right. First, ask “Why?” As I wrote in “What problem are you trying to solve?” by asking this question you will understand what is the motivation behind the task, what is the big picture and it helps tremendously to set the framework so the chances are that you will not do something that would go against it. Secondly, try to paraphrase how you understand the task. If you repeat the description of the task in your own works it will help you understand what is requested and at the same time it gives your boss a chance to react in case you are off the mark. If the task is critical enough you may even give your boss a high-level outline of what your steps will be. The idea here is not to seek permission but to ensure you understand the objectives.

Remind him that you exist

Out of sight, out of mind. If you are in a remote location and your boss don’t see you every day in your cubicle chances are you are not on top of his mind and you simply need to remind him that you exist. Even though it should be primarily his job to ensure he stays connected with his team you can always help him to achieve it. Don’t wait for your boss to setup regular meetings, just push yourself to his calendar. Don’t wait for him to ask questions, just pro-actively keep him informed. And there is nothing wrong with reminding him some of your successes in case he may not see them. Have you got kudos from your customer? Just forward it to your boss as FYI (For Your Information).

Ask for what you need

Never assumes that your boss knows what you need. Be very clear on what tools, budget or support you need to achieve your goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t understand something or if you need help with getting cooperation from people in the team or other departments. Your boss has better leverage and will be able to help you with things that would otherwise seem difficult or impossible.

Educate on your culture

The chances are that in global teams your boss comes from different country, has different cultural and educational background and may not always understand how things work at your site. It is your responsibility to help him understand that. You should always strive to give him a glimpse into how are his comments, decisions and actions seen in your culture. Just make sure you do it the right way. Saying “this will never work in my country,” is definitely not the way to go about it. It is not constructive, it is not helpful. You should formulate your feedback in a way that will help to provide understanding of what the natural consequences might be. If you have examples from the past that would illustrate what you mean then even better. For example, in Czech culture there is this negative notion that bigger guys/countries would “decide things about us, without us.” It is an important cultural aspect that is good to be shared with your boss and explain that if the decision about the team will be done without getting them involved the natural consequence is that it will not be accepted and people will spent weeks being distracted by complaining about it.

Understand his perspective

Always try to understand why he is doing what he is doing. Why would he say such a thing? Why would he believe something? Why would he act this way? Try to understand the “why” and then act appropriately. And stay positive. If you want to have a healthy relationship and work with your boss as a team it is important to have the mindset that anything he does comes from a sincere believe that it is the best thing to do for everyone involved. You should always assume that there is a positive motivation behind his behavior. If you keep this mindset it will help you to understand why he acts in a certain way and it can help you to realize how you can help and what information you should communicate.

Help him achieve his objectives

If you understand his perspective you should be also able to provide him help to achieve his goals. Yes, your boss is here to help you achieve your objectives but if you understand what his goals are and align with them chances are it will help you both to perform at higher level. The natural consequences of this relationship are that both of you over-achieve, your work well together, both of you get more opportunities for growth and have a good mutually beneficial relationship.

Provide feedback

It is always difficult thing to provide feedback to your superior but nevertheless you should strive to build such a relationship that you can do it. And again, this is primarily responsibility of your boss since he acts from the side of power but you can always do at least something to help him create such environment. If your boss feels you are loyal, you care not just for yourself but also for the company and him, chances are he will be willing to listen and receive well intentioned and well formulated feedback.

Twitter type summary: “Any relationship is a two way street. Don’t just sit and wait for your boss to walk to you, but go and meet him in the middle.”

What are your tips and tricks when working with a remote manager? How do you ensure you have what you need to do your job and that you are successful?