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Developing Leaders, Remotely

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This question landed in my inbox recently: Do you have some ideas around how to train a new leader when that person works remotely? It's a great question since it's a lot easier to train a leader when you work in the same place. But it can be done in a virtual work situation. I recently trained a remote leader within my own company and here is what I learned:

Despite the knowledge and experience they bring, there's a lot of knowledge sharing and development that needs to take place. They need to build relationships with your team members, learn your approach to customer service, get a handle on company capabilities and lots more.

Read. Your new leader should commit to scouring company literature, your website and social media channels to learn more about organizational history, philosophy,and enterprise knowledge critical to his/her new role.

Shadow Opportunities. One of the critical aspects of leadership development involves putting a "trainee" in situations to watch the leader. Invite the new leader to join you on conference calls with sales prospects and sit in on client webinars.

If you're working with clients face-to-face, you can still set up video conferencing tools or phone conferences to include your remote associate.

Practice. Practice sales and Q&A sessions together on the phone. Talk through possible sales scenarios. Once you feel confident your new leader understands the company philosophy, set them loose to work without you.

Debrief. Every time your new leader has a sales call or a presentation, debrief afterwards by phone. It's a learning process as your new associate better understands client issues, tries to answer them herself, gets advice from you, and goes back to the client. It may add more time to the process, but it builds a stronger leader with a better sense of the company's capabilities and value proposition.

Be Patient. Training new leaders takes time. It also takes a lot of honesty. Plan to have frequent and frank conversations about performance and direction. You'll have some course corrections for your new leader; meanwhile he/she should also be questioning your approach.

This is a healthy, necessary process, but it does require patience, vision and trust that the frequency of these meetings will eventually slow down as your new leader ramps up.

Meet in Person. Virtual is great, but some face-to-face time is critical for building relationships and sharing corporate culture. Consider a two-day meeting every month in order to tackle time-intensive training and projects.

To do it well, it takes a dedicated manager who is willing to put in the time, take risks to put the trainee in situations they can handle but not necessarily master immediately, and who is willing to have the hard conversations and not shrink from conflict.