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Remote leadership training: How to best support your remote managers

Here are the 7 topics and 5 formats your remote leadership training should include for your new managers.

“What should I consider for remote leadership training in my company?”

Recently, I was asked this question by a CEO.

It’s a question many CEOs, VPs of People and Culture, and CHROs have been asking themselves lately. We’ve all witnessed over the past year our managers transition to remote work – albeit with herculean effort and oftentimes varying results. Looking ahead to 2021, we want to find greater ways to support our managers (especially new managers) from afar.

When it comes to remote leadership training, the immediate instinct is to default to some kind of online video course, such as Skillshare or Udemy or Linkedin Learning. Or, to convert your monthly three-hour leadership training sessions into Zoom meetings for your managers.

While these paths are valuable (we in fact have a course on Skillshare, ourselves!), the reality is that most remote leadership training is a single dose of learning – a one-time deposit of information that is helpful in-the-moment but rarely remembered past the duration of the online course or session itself, let alone applied in a real-life situation.

Consider ceramics. Watching an online Youtube video course is super helpful as an initial primer on, say, learning about ceramics. But if you want to truly become proficient throwing on a potter’s wheel, you’ll want other forms of learning. You’ll sign-up for a class where you can learn how to wedge your clay, center it, etc.

You want learning that is more ongoing, hands-on. Learning where you can truly practice.

So then, what is the leadership equivalent?

Below, I share what to consider when designing your remote leadership training for your managers, so you can best support them in the upcoming year in a continual, engaging way. I cover two aspects of the ideal remote leadership training program: (1) The best format and (2) The best topics.

Read on to learn more.

What format should I use for remote leadership training?

There is no one single best format. This may seem like a non-answer but bear with me. Rather, the best format for learning in a remote environment is offering rich, varied opportunities for learning. The more opportunities, the better. This enables your managers to choose what format works best for them (using video, written materials, using a tool) – and encourages them to switch between formats to keep things engaging for them. Know that some people will gravitate to some formats more than others – and that’s the point 🙂 To give optionality.

Here are the different types of formats you’ll want to consider incorporating into your remote leadership training:

Research-backed written material.

Some direct sources of written leadership material that I personally frequent and cite on this blog include Harvard Business Review, McKinsey Quarterly, Strategy+Business, MIT Sloan Management Review, and Gallup. You may want to subscribe your leaders to some of these materials or curate articles and link to them as part of your remote leadership training. You can also utilize our Guides in Know Your Team which cite and condense much of this leadership research.

Live or recorded video lessons to watch on their own time.

The most popular formats include Skillshare, Udemy, Coursera, and Linkedin Learning. (Note, I have not watched all of these modules myself. I simply share them as a point of reference). We also host Workshop Live! sessions in Know Your Team that you’re able to watch the recordings of, or attend live. Here’s a sample one. You can sign-up for Know Your Team to learn more.

Manager peer groups.

Learning by experience is enhanced when you can learn from the experience of others. Leadership is no different. This could be done with monthly Zoom calls on a certain topic (e.g., “improving morale” or “giving feedback”) or a private Slack channel where managers can share tips and celebrate small wins. Other organizations will have a buddy system for their managers where senior managers can mentor new managers once a month during a one-hour call. In Know Your Team, we try to evoke the feeling of a global manager peer group with our online manager community, The Watercooler. Membership to it is included when you subscribe to Know Your Team.

Lightweight manager tools.

Perhaps the best proxy for the “in-person, live ceramics class” is to give your manager tools that they can use themselves, to reinforce what they’re learning. Specifically, tools that help them run more effective one-on-one meetings, build rapport with their remote team, and help their team track progress. This is in fact exactly what Know Your Team provides 🙂 Your managers can use our One-on-Ones Tool, Social Questions, and Heartbeat Check-in to help guide their actions as a leader.

1:1 remote coaching.

Having your managers work with an executive coach can be a useful as a part of a remote leadership training program when deployed prudently. For example, if you have a leadership coach who can provide “office hours” for your managers to sign-up for a 30-minute slot, they can serve as a helpful spot-check and counsel on tough issues. However, keep in mind that a leadership coach is most effective when (1) there is an in-depth, ongoing relationship that can be built over time so the coach has maximum context for their client’s situation and (2) the leader who is the client is typically a more senior leader, rather than a new manager. This way they have adequate experience to be able to contextualize the counsel they’re given. Executive coaching isn’t worth the high cost, otherwise.

What are the most critical topics that remote leadership training should cover?

Here are the most fundamental areas that you’ll want to make sure your remote leadership training includes:

A clear definition of success.

It’s hard to help your managers become good managers if you don’t clearly define what a “good” manager is in the first place. A precise definition of the purpose of a leader, what an effective leader does, and the mindset shift that’s required. You can read a bit about how to frame what a successful leader does in these pieces:

How to build trust in a remote team.

Trust is the oil of a team. Without it, especially in a remote team where you’re not interacting face-to-face, it can make working together have more friction than required. You’ll want to teach through your remote leadership training how to focus on building rapport and strong one-to-one relationships in a remote environment. This means encouraging your managers to be vulnerable as leaders, sharing personal views and hobbies, coming from a genuine place in wanting to get to know the team better, and following through on their commitments as a leader so their team knows that they can rely on them. You can read more about building trust remotely in these pieces:

How to give critical feedback remotely.

Giving difficult feedback to team members is one of the most frequently utilized skills – and most notoriously difficult. It’s even tougher to do well in a remote environment, where a manager cannot directly read the other person’s body language. The key is to give your managers a framework in your remote leadership training for how to best give feedback, so they’re not sugar-coating their feedback or being too brusque in their delivery. For instance, share a framework that focuses on sharing the intention of the feedback and stressing specific observable behaviors, so that their employees are more likely to internalize that feedback and change their behavior. Our recommended framework for giving feedback remotely can be found here:

How to best coach employees remotely (particularly if they’re underperforming).

What happens if someone in the team is falling behind? It can happen even in the best of teams, and some employees can be more susceptible to lagging performance in a remote environment if they haven’t been properly coached. As a manager, it’s hard to know if a direct report’s poor performance is due to something in their home life that’s weighing them down, or if it’s due to a lack of clear deliverables… Either way, you want to equip your managers with a toolkit for how to handle this situation. Here are our recommendations for how to best coach an underperforming remote employee. You can also have your managers use our One-on-ones Tool in Know Your Team to facilitate these coaching conversations. You can also share these resources with your managers:

How to best communicate in a remote team.

Communicating in a remote team does not have to feel like turning on a firehouse, with pings and chats and video calls incessantly all day, every day. Know that does not have to be the norm in a remote work environment, and you can help your managers avoid this reality by teaching best practices for communicating in a remote team. For instance, you can recommend that they have some sort of “Communication Cheat Sheet” and rely more heavily on asynchronous writing. You can read more about the best practices for remote communication in a team here:

How to hold effective remote 1:1 meetings.

With everyone in a team remote, your managers’ one-on-one meetings with their direct reports become paramount. With casual coffee meetings and spontaneous conversations “swinging by someone’s desk” now relics of the past, the remote one-on-one meeting is truly the only opportunity for a manager to have 1:1 interaction with a direct report. As a result, teaching a manager how to hold an effective one-on-one meeting is critical. In KYT, we wrote a Guide to Effective One-on-One Meetings that your managers can access, along with a One-on-Ones Tool that helps a manager take what their learning and put it into practice. You can read our most essential best practices for holding a remote one-on-one meeting here:

How to set direction and help a team make progress remotely.

At the end of the day, employees will be looking to their manager for guidance: “Where is the team headed? Why is that important? And how is each person’s work rolling up to that bigger picture of what the team is trying to accomplish?” Thus, your managers will need to understand how to co-create vision in their team, and help their team make progress toward that vision. For a in-depth look at our methodology on how to set vision in a team, I’m running a Workshop Live! Premium on “How to Set Vision in a Team” that you can register for. You can also read about vision on our blog here:

As you build out your remote leadership training program, revisit these recommendations: (1) The format of the leadership training program should involve a variety of ways to engage your managers to maximize learning, and (2) The content of your leadership training should encompass the 7 topics listed above. In a remote work environment, the success of your team is contingent on the success of your managers. Perhaps a fresh, multi-faceted approach, as the one described here, is well worth the time to consider.

Looking to roll-out remote leadership training in your organization? Know Your Team can absolutely help. We recently launched our Manager Learning Path – the most comprehensive new manager training – so managers of an entire organization can benefit from our training, tools and resources. If you’re interested in working together, please feel to reach out to us here.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.