How To Lead When You Are Away

Mark Wager is an international leadership expert who regularly runs programmes in Fiji. Mark can be contacted at If you feel that the team falls apart when you are
02 Feb 2019 10:00
How To Lead When You Are Away
  • Mark Wager is an international leadership expert who regularly runs programmes in Fiji. Mark can be contacted at

If you feel that the team falls apart when you are not there then it means it’s a struggle to take any leave.

If this applies to you then I have bad news and good news for you. Firstly let’s start with the bad news which is you are not a very good leader, you may we’ll be a hard worker but you are not a good leader because a leader is judged by what happens when they are not present.

Have they instilled in the team passion and motivation and have they provided the team with the tools, skills and knowledge they need in order to perform their job? Now here’s the good news.

You can become this kind of leader and in this week’s article I will show you how. It’s time to lead through absence.

Humility is an essential quality of Leadership

A Leader can carry a team through to temporary success but if you want that team to be continually successful then the Leader needs to guide a team to success.

If the workplace was a story then the best leaders are not the hero of that story instead it’s the team that’s the hero of the story and the Leader is the guide who helps the hero’s on their journey.

I use this example because it takes a particular kind of personality to be a quality leader because it’s incredibly tempting to become the hero, the centre of attention, the focus of praise yet the best leaders know when to take a step back, when it’s time to let others shine.

The best leaders all possess the most important quality of leadership which is humility.

Create a culture of Leadership

If you want a team that is successful regardless of your presence then you need everyone to fully understand that Leadership is a collective effort and not a singular pursuit.

A good team has a good Leader yet a great team is a team of Leaders, one in which everyone within the team takes responsibility not only for themselves but they also make everyone else in the team accountable as well.

If someone does something wrong then it’s the team that makes them aware of it.

If someone is not performing well then it’s the team that helps out that individual through training and support.

This doesn’t mean the Leader is redundant or not doing anything. Its in fact the opposite.

The Leader has the responsibility for creating this kind of culture, a culture of Leadership.

Social compliance

People are much more influenced by those around them than they are by the people who are above them. People will listen to the Leaders above but the behaviours the individuals adopt are the behaviours of their colleagues around them.

Ask yourself an honest question. How long would you take for your lunch? You may start off by taking 45 minutes but when you see everyone else taking an hour it’s highly likely you will start taking an hour for lunch as well because if your colleagues are doing it and nothing happens to them then it must be acceptable to have a little longer break for lunch.

This is called social compliance when people are highly influenced by those around them especially those who they trust and respect.

The power of social compliance is so strong that people will change their usual behaviours in order to match the behaviours of those around them.

Social compliance is the key to continuous success within a team. It is therefore important for a leader to understand this and be able to tap into this power to create a successful team.

Create interdependence

When people need each other in order to survive, they will find a way to work together.

If you send ten people to an island and all ten don’t like each other but they need to work together in order to get off the island then very soon they turn into an effective team.

When people need the person next to them then they will start looking after that person and taking responsibility for them because their own future depends on what they do.

In the workplace look for ways in which people can only achieve success by working with others and highlight these interdependences.

Share the power

Being a leader provides you with a lot of power but remember the purpose of power is not keep it but to share it.

Empower your team by presenting them with opportunities to step up and take more responsibility than they would normally.

Perhaps get someone to work on a project, help out with recruitment or even ask people for their opinion or seek advice.

If you are away from the workplace get someone to step up into your role even if it’s for a single day and you will find the gesture will reap rewards.

Give people opportunities to shine and they will shine but don’t fall into the trap of only presenting these opportunities to the same people every time, this is a common mistake because everyone needs to feel valued and trusted.

Create a safety net

The biggest downside with this approach is that despite the incredible long term benefits you will suffer during the short term because people will make mistakes.

It’s only natural that when you ask more of people they will occasionally fail but this doesn’t have to be bad because people will always learn more from their failures than they will from their successes.

You obviously don’t want people to fail but in order for people to grow, in order for a culture of Leadership to develop and establish itself and for you to lead more effectively it needs to be understood that failure is just a step towards success.

It doesn’t mean that they won’t get more opportunities in the future they just need to learn the valuable lessons that failure provides.

Recruit the right people

Everything starts with recruitment. If you can get your recruitment right then everything else becomes a lot easier when you have the right people.

I always like the saying “hire slowly and fire quickly” because many leaders do the opposite.

They just bring almost anyone into the team and then spend a long time trying to get them out.

Create high standards for your team so everyone in the team knows that not just anyone can do what they do and if that means it takes longer to get the right people then take more time because if you make a mistake with recruitment the time you save today will be nothing compared to the time you waste managing a poor performing member of the team.

Recruit based on attitude because it’s easier to teach the right skills than it is to teach the right attitude.

It’s easy to lead when you are with the team but when you are absent, away from the workplace then it’s at that moment that you are tested as a Leader.

Create a culture of leadership, empower people and give them the necessary tools to lead and you will create the best leaders who will in turn create a leadership legacy.


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