Leading From a Distance

Muddy Boots Leadership at a Distance

I recently wrote this post, “Be a Muddy Boots Leader! Get out and about with the people you lead.” The question many leaders are asking is how they connect with their followers in the time of a global pandemic and an environment of social distancing.

The answer, I believe, is that the leadership attributes that worked a pre-social distancing environment will work in the age of COVID 19. It is just that some of the techniques might have to be tweaked. Being a muddy boots leader and getting out and about with the troops is as much psychological as it is physical.

Displaying Muddy Boots Leadership in the COVID 19 environment is clearly about communication. It is also about showing your followers you care, you understand how they are feeling, and you are committed to removing obstacles from their path.

Over the last decade or so, leading from a distance has not been that unusual. Globalization has brought with it distributed teams. Due to globalization, a team leader now can have team members operating in multiple states, countries, and time zones.

However, not all companies are national or global. Small businesses account for over 99% of all businesses in the United States. In most small businesses, people generally work in the same building and office area. Many small businesses have been forced to allow workers to work from home. Even larger businesses with regional offices, where working together in a brick mortar structure had been the norm, have been forced to now allow employees to work from home. This has presented a new type of environment which people are working in and this has presented new challenges for many leaders. Some analysts believe working from home may continue, even when the pandemic is a thing of the past.

Here are some techniques a leader can use in order to be a Muddy Boots Leader in the era of social distancing.


Leaders need to over-communicate when leading distributed teams. Ensure information is pushed to one’s followers early and often. Lack of communicating leads to anxiety, fear, and speculation. When followers are not communicated to, they will begin to make up their own narrative, and many times it will be a narrative that is not favorable to the organization.

However, communication works both ways. As a leader who is leading a distributed and social-distancing team, insist your followers confirm that they have received messages. Also, direct your team members to communicate to you on a regular basis so you are aware of the status of their projects and any issues they might have. Show those you lead that communication works both ways and you are interested in what they have to say.

Decision Making

Make sure you involve your team in your decision-making process. Take the time to gain their feedback and ask their opinion.  Whether you use their recommendations or not, get back with your teammates and explain why you did or did not use their recommendation. Including your team in decision making will make them feel respected and engaged.

 Focus on Success

When working in a distributed environment in is easy for your followers to be so focused on their own work and their own small bubble.  Because that is the case, they sometimes fail to see the bigger picture and the progress and success the greater team or organization is having.

Be prepared to regularly communicate individual and group success stories. It could be a deal one of the team members was able to close. It might be an on-line course someone completed, or a virtual seminar someone attended. It could be a milestone that the team reached together or an organizational goal that was achieved.

When you communicate the success the team has had, it motivates and inspires others. Everyone wants to know that they are contributing to the progress of the entire team.

 Share Yourself with the Team

Vulnerability is an important leadership attribute. Be proactive in sharing with the team how you are dealing with the new environment caused by the pandemic. This should include your downs as well as your ups. By being real and letting your teammates know that you are dealing with struggles and asking for recommendation and offering ideas on how to deal with the unusual challenges, it can be of use to everyone.

No one wants to feel like they are the only ones who find the time challenging. It is comforting to know there are others dealing with similar issues to deal with. It is also helpful to offer solutions. There are basic things people should do to stay mentally, spiritually, and physically fit during the pandemic. As a leader, it is up to you to offer ideas and seek out ideas from the team.

Encourage teammates to engage in a physical fitness program, even if it includes simple things like walking every day, stretching, and doing some basic exercises or yoga. Make suggestions on how to eat healthy and encourage teammates to engage in behavior that keeps them at their best. If one of your followers has a best practice they are using, share that best practice with the rest of the team and give your teammate props for the idea.

 Meet Outside the Office

 I have a friend who has been innovative about conducting lunch meetings. He will meet one-on-one with a team member at an outdoor picnic area and both he and whomever he meets with bring their own lunch. They can maintain appropriate social distancing during the lunch, not be near others who can possibly expose them to the virus and have a productive face-to-face conversation.

This is a great way to break a teammate out of their house and engage in some needed personal interaction.

 Stay Positive While Keeping It Real

 Leaders must be pragmatic about the reality of the challenges the organization is faced with, but it is incumbent on the leader to show the team that there is hope for future outcomes. This takes some real analysis and planning. The leader need not work on the plan alone but utilize the talents of the team to work out how the organization will move forward, even amid the challenges of the pandemic.

It is during challenging times that the leader must display positivity, optimism, and hope. The best thing a leader can do when faced with a challenge is harness the talents of the team to find a solution, not a way out.

 Focus on What Can be Done

During this time of COVID 19, it seems as though the focus of the news media and some governmental departments is on what you cannot do. As a leader, focus your team on what you all can do. Your focus should not be on constraints, but rather focus the team on opportunities. For example, virtual meetings do have advantages over face-to-face meetings. In the virtual environment you can now bring in people from outside of your region to speak to the group about a myriad of value-added topics.

Perhaps your team can now demonstrate a product better than before in a virtual environment. Maybe, you can now expand your sales territory due to the virtual nature of how business is being conducted. Any challenge also brings forth an opportunity. Have your team on the lookout for those opportunities and then move forward energetically with a mindset of “what can be done.”

 Virtual Muddy Boots

I am a proponent of Muddy Boots Leadership. This is the kind of leadership whereby the leader gets out and about with their followers to obtain a clear idea of what is happening on the ground. Even in a virtual environment, there are still ways a leader can connect with and engage followers. Muddy Boots Leadership is a mindset and muddy boots leaders will find a way to engage their followers no matter the obstacles or the distance.

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