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The Best Remote Leaders Do These 3 Things—Because Great Leadership Doesn't Only Come From In-Person Work

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Great leadership can come from working in person. It can come from working remotely, too.

That's according to Tom Gimbel, a leadership expert and CEO of Chicago-based employment agency LaSalle Network who regularly works with other leaders to place people in jobs across a wide array of industries.

Gimbel says that despite some bosses insisting that their employees return to the office, leaders can be exceptional at their jobs in a remote setting, too: Great leadership boils down to "compassionate accountability," and you can practice that from one cubicle or 5,000 miles away.

A McKinsey & Company survey released last month found that 80 million Americans engage in hybrid work arrangements, but many want to work remotely for the much of the week when given the option.

"People really want to have and work for a leader who challenges them, who drives them, but also has compassion," Gimbel tells CNBC Make It. He adds that leading remotely isn't actually that different from leading in person, as long as you keep three key strategies in mind:

Respect your colleagues' boundaries

More than anything, remote leaders need to be considerate and respectful of boundaries, Gimbel says. It's a way of demonstrating compassion — crucial in a remote setting, where work environments may not always be ideal or unexpected events can crop up.

Compassion can mean understanding when emergencies occur, whether that be sick family members, mental health struggles or having to travel last minute, Gimbel says. It can also mean accounting for people who work in different time zones and ensuring that you schedule meetings at reasonable times for them.

"It may sound basic, but I've seen a lot of leaders who don't respect boundaries," Gimbel says. "And that should be No. 1."

Schedule one-on-one meetings

One-on-one meetings can go a long way in a remote setting, Gimbel says.

Try scheduling them with other people in your virtual workplace on a regular basis, he recommends: They can help you keep your colleagues accountable without physically staring over their shoulders, and help your employees by regularly giving them an up-to-date sense of your expectations and goals.

Gimbel says that when Covid hit, and many workplaces transitioned from in-person to remote, some leaders stopped holding their employees accountable because they were afraid to lose them. That ranges from people who may be performing poorly and need extra guidance to high performers who may seem like they don't need your help at all.

"It can't be 'out of sight, out of mind,'" Gimbel says. "And, just because someone's doing their job well doesn't mean they don't deserve one-on-one attention." 

Find ways to show others you care

Showing others you care about them personally — not just as a coworker or employee — can help you build strong work relationships in a remote setting, Gimbel says. People want to work with compassionate leaders who genuinely understand and care about them, or at least make an effort to try.

You don't need to see people face-to-face to accomplish this. For example, Gimbel suggests asking about where your remote coworkers are physically located: What's it like in New York or Pittsburgh? How does that compare to San Francisco or Las Vegas? Asking about those details can signal to others that you care about who they are and what their lives are like.

Another recommendation: Show your appreciation by going old-school.

Remote work "makes about everything electronic," often limiting your interactions with colleagues to video calls, emails and Slack messages, Gimbel says. Sending people hand-written cards, letters or tokens of appreciation in the mail can be a much more meaningful way of connecting with the people you work with.

"Use snail mail to show people that you care about them," Gimbel says. "It can go a long way."

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