Lead from afar
July 22nd 2021
Some ideas from this blog article were initially written a year ago for Arrow International as the pandemic had just begun, and we were finding ourselves in a new reality. Today, as we are once again faced with lockdowns and restrictions, we are wearier than before. And might forget simple things we have learnt in the beginning. So it's time to refresh! As God's appointed leaders, we have a call: to lead our people with joy and integrity. And even if we can provide clarity as we should in the typical setting, we should give assurance and genuine care.
So how can we lead from afar?
A couple of years ago, while I was being interviewed for the role of MI National Director, I was asked whether I could lead a team remotely. The search committee had told me that all my staff are located interstate and overseas, and it will be challenging to build a team and support them remotely. No one told me I would be sitting in my office, alone, as even my assistant would be working from overseas.
At that time, I had ministered as a pastor for five years in Melbourne's largest church. I led many volunteers, leaders, coaches without seeing them altogether more often than once a quarter. Yet, we had excellent close relationships, and our life groups were growing. Did I enjoy this remote leadership? No, I did not. But what I thought was a great challenge turned out to be a great blessing as I learned the skills necessary to lead and even draw people closer together from afar.
Now that we all have to operate like this in this season of COVID pandemic and one lockdown after another, we need to pull out the necessary tools from our leadership toolbox to make sure people don't lose the vision and passion in the distraction of working from home in isolation from their workmates, in separation from their friends and families. The primary means of communication now is a zoom call or conference call. These calls can make or break someone's day.
So, let me share some questions and steps that do the work of leading, caring and bringing people together!
How are you?
This simple question can be quickly answered with something general, like "I'm doing well" or any other cliché response. But don't stop there; make sure your people know that you are genuinely interested. It might take some time before they open up to you, but it is worth it!
What are you working on right now?
It's good to check in like this to give you a good indication of where the project is. It will allow you to see whether the staff are experiencing frustrations or whether things are going well. And, of course, it will show your interest and enable you to speak into the process.
What are the main obstacles in your work?
Here you will be able to see if there are areas in which you can help. There may be things that need to be reorganised, people you might need to call asap and encourage. But mostly, it will give your staff permission to share the not-so-positive things and have an opportunity to be heard. As without this question, most people will only report good things.
Tell me how I can help you to accomplish your goal?
Two minds are better than one, and together you could address any roadblocks to finishing the project, help to sharpen the idea or bring increased clarity.
Is there anything God is speaking to you about that you would like to share?
When this question is asked often, it will encourage people to be more focused on and observant of God's work in their life even in times like this.
I remember my Senior Minister back in Russia gathering his team and always asking us, "Whom did you witness to this week?". In the beginning, it was an awkward silence, and he would be the only one to share. But being asked the same question every week, again and again, reminded us of why we are here—to reach the lost with the Gospel; and it caused us to go out and witness to people. Soon enough, we all had something to share, and it became a great habit. So, if there is no response at first, share what you have and ask the next time again.
Can I pray for you?
In Exodus 18, Jethro says to Moses, "You will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace". There is a very vital connection between people going home in peace and us as leaders enduring pressure. It is always easier to lead when you know your people's needs are met. And we could not possibly accomplish this on our own, but we believe in God who hears us! So, before you let them go (well, hang up), offer to pray. Praise God for their gift and express your gratitude, encourage them and let them go in peace. You can use your own questions. Just make sure you are fully present and engaged in the conversation, as this is the greatest gift we can give to people when we lead from afar.
And the last tip, as challenging as these times are financial, we need to remember that our greatest asset is our people passionate about the cause. Do you see someone struggling, losing passion and interest? Send them doughnuts, flowers, a card. Little acts of appreciation can go a long way!
As I write this, the mailman has rung the doorbell to deliver a dozen Crispy Cream doughnuts from one of my staff members. Very sweet, considering she is finishing up. But also knowing, it's a relationship we have built during the pandemic, over zoom, interstate. Keep your people smiling, passionate and in love with what they are doing. A crisis like this is a great time to show how much we care.
Nataliya Osipova is a National Director of Missions Interlink and a Board member of the Global Leadership Council for Mission Commission of WEA. She is raising three boys, has three degrees in different fields and has diverse leadership experience in a cross-cultural setting.