What it's like to lead remotely

Apr 04, 2024

I was working at one of our locations recently and spending some time with one of our talented teammates and he asked me what it was like to be in remote leadership. Then this past week at a meeting with our ERP provider, I was asked the same question by a member of another agri-business. Given that I’ve been asked the same question more than once over the past couple of weeks, I’m going to assume that many of you wonder about it as well. So, this week I’ll be using my thoughts to let you behind the curtain of what it is like to be a remote leader.

My starting thoughts are that it is lot less relevant than people realize in my case. Ag Partners has 30+ locations with assets. Given that, if I visited one location per day and didn’t have any trips, meetings, or sick days that disrupted that pattern, I would only be at each location a total of 8 days per year. That’s not a realistic possibility, and quite frankly, it wouldn’t really matter to our business. I’m not an expert in running a blender or a leg, I’m not the best at running a scale, and while I’m good at organizing, no one in our company wants me to come in to decide what organization strategy is best for their location. I would be in the way of the talented team members we have in those spots. There are, however, some benefits, both positive and negative to my not being anchored to one location and that’s what I’d like to take you through today. Let’s start with the positive.

A large part of my role is aggregating information from a variety of sources, analyzing the feedback and information I receive, and navigating both the internal and external hurdles that are coming. I am fortunate to have a wide view of the picture given to me by the employees who are willing to share, industry partners, regulators, political influencers, and more. Much of that information is shared in confidence, so not being in the same spot daily makes it easier to protect and maintain the confidentiality of what is shared.

Some of the decisions I am responsible for are also unpopular. When an external authority, our board, or my supervisor asks me to implement a solution, I do so without blaming it on someone else to take the heat from me. Being remote makes me an easy target to disparage and I don’t begrudge people for it, rather I’m thankful that I don’t have to be the kid that nobody wants to eat with at lunch daily.

There are some negatives as well. First, due to the reasons stated above, it’s difficult to develop camaraderie. I am confident and proud to say that I truly care for many of my coworkers – even the ones who get mad at some of the directions we take. It's wonderful when we get to connect and they tell me about their new child, or the pool they put in, or that their kid is going to be the next Kansas City Royals star (It’s opening day – GO ROYALS!). I feel pain for them when they experience loss, or when I see them going through the struggles that many of us go through in early married life and parenting. I intentionally pray that they find joy in navigating the hard times and embrace the great times. All that being said, I don't get to be there in person to participate in that very often.

Another downside is, like you, I put in some long hours. I know that many people on our team want to see me in person and there are a variety of industry partners that require my time as well. Being remote, I don’t have the excuse of going to the office and waiting for people to come to me. I’m in my office an average of one day per week, and the travel sometimes takes a toll.

In summary, I think the best comparison I could come up with of what it's like as a remote leader is a satellite in orbit that occasionally docks at the space station. I get a wider view than most and transmit information where it needs to go while infrequently having personal interaction.

The great thing is that there are talented and driven people taking the information and creating action. Not everyone can be remote, and not everyone can be in the same location every day. Embracing that fact allows us to unlock our potential through teamwork and technology.

That leads me to this week’s challenge… Lead where you are. When a company chooses to have remote leadership, it means they trust you to do your job. Take ownership of that responsibility. Be a leader right where you are. If that’s remote – great! If that’s at an operational location – great! If that’s at an office – great! You get the picture. Trust the team, control what you can control, and use the tools available to communicate as much as possible.

I’m thankful that you were willing to go to work today, that you took the time to read this, and for being a part of what makes this world amazing!