What factors or practices make a good distance leader? How do these differ for a leader of a co-located team?

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These questions came out of a Distance Project Management course I am taking this summer, and I thought I would share my notes.

The authors, Fisher and Fisher, list seven competencies of an effective distance leader in “The Distance Manager.” These are leader, results catalyst, facilitator, barrier buster, business analyzer, coach and living example. Interestingly enough, they indicate that “though the relative priorities or methodologies may differ, distance managers require the same behavior as other leaders…” (Fisher & Fisher, pg 10) Of course, the differences are in how these competencies are applied. Distance managers tend to rely more on technology, and will need to use different management techniques in managing their remote team.
Two key lessons for me are in the concept of being a boundary manager, and in the difference between the traditional supervisory role a regular manager has versus a remote team manager who must teach their team members to make their own work assignments, schedule vacations, authorize expenditures, and so forth while focusing on boundary issues. Fisher and Fisher write, “Boundary managers assume that team members are already doing the best they can within the constraints of the system in which they are working.”

It is clear that trust is a huge component of an effective distance leader and his or her relationship with a remote team. This means knowing how to trust and knowing how to set up a system that fosters both trust and accountability–one that provides the correct motivators for productivity. This is what the book talks about in addressing the Distance Leader’s need to work on the boundary, as opposed to a traditional supervisor’s work “inside” the boundary.

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