Hybrid Work Leadership - Why The Doers Shine & The Talkers Don't

In-office leadership is very different from hybrid and remote work leadership

bretton putter

Effective leadership in this new hybrid world requires different skills that go beyond traditional team leadership. Let’s be straight and to the point about this: Office-based leadership is very different from remote work leadership. Period. Strong in-person leadership skills are great, but not applicable in a remote work world. Confidence, charisma and extroversion are not that useful anymore.  

Hybrid work is a time for “The Doers” as opposed to “The Talkers”.

Instead of the dynamic loud voice, leaders of remote teams are the types of people who keep their head down and get the projects delivered, they help other team members with tasks, and keep the team on schedule and focused on goals. They are facilitators, coaches and collaborators.

A study carried out by Georgia Southern University  tracked 220 US-based teams to see which team members emerged as leaders across in-person and remote groups. The researchers conducted a series of in-lab experiments with 86 four-person teams, and also traced the communications and experiences of 134 teams doing a project in a university class . The study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, was carried out pre-pandemic.

The data from this study shows that confidence, intelligence and extroversion, traits 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. 

Each four person team in the study was responsible for choosing who from the team would lead them. The face-to-face teams chose the alphas - charismatic extrovert types [show words “charismatic, extrovert” on the screen as you speak]. Those chosen as remote leaders were doers, who tended towards planning, connecting teammates with help and resources, keeping an eye on upcoming tasks and, most importantly, getting things done [show words “head down, get things done” on the screen as you speak]. These leaders were goal-focused, productive, dependable and helpful.

“In face-to-face interactions, most of us are very easily swayed by the power of personality. We are less swayed by someone’s personality in a remote environment and can more accurately assess whether or not they are actually engaging in important leadership behaviours. People are more likely to be seen based on what they actually do, not based on who they are.

To sum up, in a remote environment people are less swayed by the power of personality and are able to more accurately assess what the leader’s real capabilities and what the leader actually does to help them get their job done. Unsurprisingly the emphasis in a remote leadership scenario shifts from saying stuff to doing stuff. 

This requires a coach mindset. Let’s see what that means and how it is different:

  • It’s easier to tell people what to do. It’s much harder work to be the facilitator and provider of what employees need to succeed. 
  • Everybody understands supervision. It’s very different and much more subtle to observe, understand and leverage the unique talents and strengths of each employee. Remote leaders focus on developing their team to achieve and maximize agreed outcomes.
  • It’s not about fixing poor performance when it happens. You need to do the hard work way before, by setting clear expectations and performance goals  along the way, by being available, offering feedback and guidance where necessary. 
  • It’s not about one-to-many communication as much anymore. Remote leaders must have far more frequent and meaningful one-to-one conversations with their employees. 1:1 calls serve to check in with the person, not the work (work can be reviewed asynchronously). It is about spending the time coaching, unblocking, helping the individual grow, providing feedback, discussing plans and doubts, and so on.