Balance and Leadership

A colleague of mine shared how leading during #C-19 is especially difficult because as leaders we’re always trying to make local and global balances for people to work out better. Any new mode of operation has a period when forces get out of balance, and during that time everyone can accept the fact that there will be a time of transition. But #C-19 is a prolonged state of transition and uncertainty for the world — and a prolonged state of imbalance can only lead to exhaustion.

Successful remote work is based on three core principles: communication, coordination, and culture. Broadly speaking, communication is the ability to exchange information, coordination is the ability to work toward a common goal, and culture is a shared set of customs that foster trust and engagement. In order for remote work to be successful, companies (and teams within them) must create clear processes that support each of these principles.


In absence of leaders being able to travel, it makes it more difficult to “sense” balances that are not inspectable by completely remote means. Leaders who excel at distributed work are able to ingest cues that are different than ones IRL (In Real Life). They’re also better at turning off the digital world — it’s a conscious choice to unplug, which is hard for IRL leaders who are accustomed to getting on flights to unplug and then immediately go “all on” when they’re on the ground. They’re able to dip into the middle of everything and not just sit at a bird’s eye view from 10,000 feet. So the executive “swoop and poop” becomes a visceral act, for good and for bad.

“When you can become asynchronous as an organization,” Matt says, “it unlocks so much productivity and so much autonomy for you and your colleagues.”

via LinkedIn

For leaders new to the all-remote paradigm, things like the executive “swoop and poop” are made more complicated because everyone (not just those who are at the center of it all) experiences it all together. The speed of communication that fans out from an epicenter is much more efficient when running all-remote — especially for a negatively perceived event. Also, the ability to adopt what Matt Mullenweg refers to as “async” is vital. He refers to asynchronous operations where meetings aren’t being called to hold people accountable by being present in the same time, and same “space” (i.e. a video call). It means needing a culture that is able to work in a truly collaborative way while feeling fully accountable for what they do without direct, over-the-shoulder supervision.

Relationship building is extraordinarily difficult IRL, and it’s even more difficult when running all-remote. That said, as Mullenweg’s pointed out in the past, when there’s no other choice but running all-remote, then relationships DO get made. In other words, if a company has half working on-site and half working remote, then a hierarchy forms where those who are on-site become the advantaged class. So running *all* remote levels the playing field for relationship building.

Making things work well all-remote, according to Mullenweg, is about having clear processes for “communication, coordination, and culture.” The upside of having clear process is that there’s little room for errors to happen; and their downside is that it can create a culture of rigidity (which lowers a sense of humanity). An all-remote situation without processes, though, can be truly inhumane — so don’t get me wrong and think I’m anti-process.

So circling back to the idea of how leaders are responsible to move a system towards balance, I might add that they also actively nudge the system out-of-balance to enable change (ideally for the better) to happen. Working all-IRL is a known craft that’s been around since the beginning of humankind. Working all-remote has only been running at global scale for just a few months. Leaders today need to accept the ongoing imbalance that will be prolonged by #C-19 while using their intuition to nudge the system they’re responsible to be balanced — to get consciously pushed out of balance.

To do so requires a few things:

  • Confidence in your people as being able to withstand a combination of natural imbalances and leader-infused imbalances.
  • Thinking of processes as needing to be agile/iterative to work within a constant state of imbalance — always adaptive.
  • Synchronous (regularized) communication that can be consumed asynchronously and on-demand to allow for self-corrections.
  • Having a good enough vision for the future that will roughly withstand the next steps of change. In other words, be lucky!

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