5 Essential Leadership Styles for Managing Remote Workforce

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Priyanka Prashob
Priyanka Prashob is an organizational psychologist with 6+ years of experience in the field of Content and Psychology. She is a passionate writer and has authored 2 books. She has designed content for corporate training programs, worked on organizational behavior reports and numerous individual personality assessment reports. Several research articles written by her are published on platforms like Academia and Research Gate. The articles have gained recognition and appreciation from universities, academicians, and researchers across the world.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” -John Quincy Adams. There is no ‘right path’ or ‘the path’ to leadership. This is especially true when it comes to embracing leadership styles for managing a remote workforce. Leadership is a great responsibility. Because a leader is not just entrusted with keeping the business running but has to take care of his/her people. And most importantly, bring the best in them.

In these times of change, organizations need to be more agile than ever. Disruptive forces like technology, globalization, changing demographics and the pandemic are pressing down on businesses, forcing them to re-look at the way they engage with the world. Especially, the way you manage your people. That is, the remote work era calls for a remote leadership style. In other words, you need to rethink your leadership styles for managing your remote workforce. 

A new era calls for new leadership styles for managing a remote workforce

Have you ever considered this question – all organizations have the potential for excellence but why only a few achieve excellence?

The answer lies in the role that a leader takes and plays to drive self and people’s performance in an efficient manner.

Remember: As the work you do and the projects you run become more important, you will affect more and more people. So, simply plugging along, operating on yesterday’s knowledge and experience is no longer an option. Remote management is the future of the workplace now. And as leaders, you need to find a way to make the situation work for everyone involved.

While there are many leadership styles that you can use to make this work. However, let me warn you! Not all leadership styles may work as effectively as the others when it comes to managing a virtual team. With differences in locations and time zones, a remote leader may find it challenging to monitor and manage his or her team, especially if the leadership style being implemented is not suitable in the setup. 

Here are some of the leadership styles for managing your remote workforce better. Let’s look into them one by one.

5 Essential Leadership Styles for Managing Remote Workforce
Boss vs. Leader

5 Essential leadership styles for managing remote Workforce

1. Democratic Leadership

As the name suggests – this leadership style is democratic in nature. Leaders in this category run groups and projects like…well, a democracy. Hence, it is also referred to as “participative leadership.” 

Democratic leaders emphasize working together and actively involve their teams in the decision-making process. They value ideas and input from others and encourage discussion about those contributions. They aren’t fans of handing down orders from on high. But instead, take a more collaborative approach to get things done.

Steps to move closer to a democratic leadership style:

  • Listen, listen, and listen more! – Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Listen to how they feel – from their standpoint. Understand what your employees are going through, if they are doing fine and if they need support. Make them feel secured. Create an environment where they feel free to come to you to discuss their pain points. This is how you build relationships and a positive organizational culture regardless of remote work scenario or not.
  • Ask the right questions – With remote work, communication can be challenging at times. So it’s extremely crucial to ask your remote workforce the right questions. This will not only help you get work done faster but will set the right tone from the beginning.
  • Gain their support- People are a vital part of any organization and it’s success greatly depends on its people. Build a strong relationship with your remote workforce. Make them feel valued and appreciated at all times. Be there for them and they will be there for you!
  • Ask For their suggestions – This is a critical element. It is important that you ask their inputs and suggestions. Be it, a work project, or a new initiative that you thought of, for your organization. Involve your people. Ask for their insights. You will be shocked to see how much these inputs may come handy to you at the most crucial times. And as a bonus – you win your people’s hearts.

2. Servant Leadership

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu. This quote best explains this leadership style.

The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in ‘The Servant as Leader’, an essay that he first published in 1970. So, it’s not a new concept.

The servant-leader is the servant first. They operate with this motto: Serve first and lead second. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. Rather than thinking about how they can inspire people to follow their lead, they channel the majority of their energy to find ways to help others. They prioritize the needs of other people above their own.

They are known for asking this question a lot – “What can I do to help?” 

Some of the great examples include Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King.

Some of the features that you could pick up from this great leadership style include:

  • Constantly enabling and empowering teammates to progress and realize their fullest potential.
  • Taking an ‘others-oriented’ rather than a ’self-centered’ approach.
  • Considering responsibilities of the position as far more important than any perks
  • Placing a high priority on removing roadblocks and helping others get things done.
  • Creating an atmosphere in which people are encouraged to be more free, autonomous, and whole human beings. That is, encouraging your employees to grow holistically.

3. Thought Leadership

Thought leaders are ‘informed opinion’ leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with 

  • innovative ideas; 
  • turn ideas into reality, and 
  • know and show how to replicate their success.

They create evolutionary and even revolutionary advancements in their fields not just by urging others to be open to new ways of thinking. But when they create a blueprint for people to follow – they provide a method, process, guidelines, or a set of best practices. Thought leaders who codify the steps necessary to follow in their footsteps build a platform and assure that others will align with, and build on their success. In other words, they create a foundation for others to build on or a movement for others to join. With remote work being the new normal, thought leadership style can help a great deal to effectively manage your remote workforce.

Some of the greatest features that define thought leadership are as follows:

  • Having a ‘growth-mindset: They believe in staying open and focusing on the joy of learning — versus being super focused on winning and results. They are on a constant mission of nurturing their creativity. Because they believe creativity is the lifeblood of innovation. And it can’t be harnessed if our mind is closed to new possibilities.
  • They have a thirst for learning and won’t shy away from approaching their colleagues to learn what they don’t know. And they try hard to build this kind of learning culture in their organization
  • They don’t fear away from taking risks. And they do so with full confidence and courage to make it work.
  • They are great listeners and communicators. They have magnetic personalities. Also are very inspirational and effective at getting an entire group invested in a shared objective.

4. Empathetic/Coach-style Leadership

As the name suggests, the leader here acts as a coach/mentor to all his/her employees. Similar to how a sports team coach, coaches his/her team, this leader focuses on identifying and nurturing the individual strengths of each of his/her team members.

Firstly, being a coach leader, he/she focuses on strategies that will enable their team to work better together. This style offers strong similarities to democratic leadership but puts more emphasis on the growth and success of individual employees. This leadership style is what today’s remote work era needs greatly. 

Secondly, rather than forcing all employees to focus on similar skills and goals, this leader focuses on building a team where each employee has expertise or skills in something different. In other words, this leader focuses on creating strong teams that can communicate well and embrace each other’s unique skill sets in order to get work done.

Some features of this amazing leadership style include:

  • Helps employees to improve their strengths rather than on their weaknesses. They do this by giving employees new tasks to try, offering them guidance, or meeting to discuss constructive feedback. 
  • Encourages one or more team members to expand on their strengths by learning new skills from other teammates.
  • Engages in empathic listening and encourages others to practice the same.
  • Creates an open and positive work culture. That is, allows team members to be understood first, and then pushes them to grow
  • Enables learning and knowledge sharing. 
  • Puts the spotlight on people: they provide their team members with positive energy and a sense of confidence.
  • Encourages team members to contribute to the decision-making process. And constantly ensures that people’s abilities are used, valued, and developed along the way.

5. Situational Leadership

Firstly, this leadership approach tends to focus more on what is needed for whatever situation is in place. A situational leader uses different leadership styles which he/she thinks is the best to handle the given situation. 

This is one of the best leadership styles that many rely on today. Secondly, this type of leadership demands a high level of adaptability and flexibility. 

Thirdly, if you apply this approach, it’s also essential for you to have the ability to analyze the situation at hand, so that you can immediately apply the right approach in handling your virtual team.

Moreover, no matter what type of leader you are. Be it democratic, inspirational/thought, people-oriented, coach, or situational – it’s important to remember that your role is to keep your team motivated while enhancing their productivity. Because you can always adjust your style to meet the demands of your work environment and to help your team perform to the best of their abilities. 

Bottom line: The best leadership style is to keep adapting yourself to meet the situation and your people’s needs. Ultimately, it all boils down to keeping your people happy, engaged, and motivated. Because if you do this, productivity will be taken care of by itself!

Here’s a smart leaders’ checklist for leaders like you:

Ready to run through the contents of the checklist?

  • Taking responsibility for developing your employees – That is, focusing on your people and your scope of work
  • Taking responsibility for developing talent in your organization – Looking beyond your team or function to consider larger talent needs and opportunities
  • Using on-the-job experiences to develop employees – Identifying and providing roles, tasks, or assignments that can add depth to an employee’s experience. That is, encouraging your employees to learn from experience 

Here’s a little something for you – A guideline to help you develop your people-orientation and build a strong organizational culture that is positive and growth-bound:

  • Knowing and constantly reinforcing your WHY
  • Identifying your leadership style 
  • Paying attention to the nature of communication
  • Assessing the involvement of each team member in the journey of the team
  • Accepting each member for their strength and weakness
  • Stepping in and lending a hand, sometimes in unexpected ways

Remember: Everyone has his or her own objective and it’s the leader’s responsibility to know how to funnel diverse personal goals in order to keep everyone on track and the organization healthy. 

Final thoughts

Knowing which of the leadership styles works best for you is part of being a good leader. Today’s business environments are fraught with challenges due to the changing demographics and the employee expectations of a diverse remote workforce. Thus, choosing effective leadership styles for managing a remote workforce becomes imperative. This may call for a new breed of leader who is an amalgam of most of the leadership styles discussed here.

As the Chinese proverb goes, the wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water molds itself to the pitcher. Developing a signature style with the ability to stretch into other styles as the situation warrants may help enhance your leadership effectiveness. Because no one leadership style can be the best and you need to constantly keep adapting your leadership style to manage your remote workforce based on the situational demands. 

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