Leadership: Over the Hills and Far Away

February 14, 2021
Wally Bock

Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe series is the kind of historical fiction I love. The series traces a compelling character through a range of historical events. Those events are the Peninsular War (1808 –1814) and the Battle of Waterloo. The historical detail is incredible, so there’s lots of things to inspire you to read more of the history.

The books were turned into a TV series in the UK. The theme song was “Over the Hills and Far Away.” It includes these lines:

“King George commands and we obey, over the hills and far away.”

You may wish it were that way for you and your team. You’ve got team members scattered across the landscape and it’s a pleasant fantasy to think that you can issue commands and they’ll obey. But that’s not how it is and not how it will be.

Here are three things to remember as you scramble to figure out how to accomplish the mission and care for the people in this strange new world of work.

The Basics of Leadership Haven’t Changed

If you were an effective leader before, there’s good news. The basics of leadership haven’t changed. The situation is different. The technology is different. You must learn to do the same things in a new way.

Touch base a lot. It helped you when everyone was in the same space. It will help you today and tomorrow. You’ll use technology, of course, and the more you can use rich technology, the better.

Have conversations. Conversations are how you build relationships. You can have them using Zoom and its ilk. But you may find that a good old-fashioned phone call is the best way to have a conversation. You can’t have a conversation via email.

Have regular team meetings. Effective teams provide lots of social support. Use some of your time at team meetings for check-ins that may have nothing to do with business. Use your team meetings to help team members understand what each member is doing and how they can help. Use each team meeting to give every team member the opportunity to describe what they’re doing and ask for any help and support they need.

Have regular one-on-ones, too. Use them to help your team members meet their goals. Use them to spot personal issues so you can support your team member.

Let Go of Line-Of-Sight Supervision

In a world where everyone worked in the same space, it’s easy to do line-of-sight supervision. But line-of-sight supervision is a cover for lack of training, unclear assignments, and lack of trust. You can’t see your team members working anymore, so you’re going to have to shore up those weaknesses.

Work hard to improve your assignments, delegation, and work assessment. Make sure people get the training and resources they need.

The good news is that if you develop those skills, you’ll be a better leader whether you’re leading a team scattered across the globe or one that can hear each other’s phone conversations. You can’t do line-of-sight supervision anymore. Seize the opportunity to improve.

You Must Think About Things You Used to Do Naturally

When your team was all in one space, a lot of things came naturally. You could stop by and start a chat without having to do much planning. You could overhear conversations that gave you important information. Touching base with your team members was easy. You could get signals from voice and body language that told you when someone was having a hard time. Those days are gone.

You must learn to do consciously what you used to do naturally. Make a list of folks you want to check in with during the day and make it part of your to-do list. Zoom isn’t the same as being there, but you can learn to spot signs of discomfort and distress. Make notes to help you remember things you want to do.


The basics of leadership don’t change.

Let go of line-of-sight supervision.

Things you used to do naturally you must do consciously.

More From Wally Bock

Your Purpose Doesn't Need to be Earth-Saving

Why and How to Become a Helpful Boss

Leadership: There is No Misbehavior

In addition to writing the Three Star Leadership blog, Wally Bock is an author, ghostwriter, writing coach and book doctor. In his past lives he has run a small publishing company, been a popular keynote speaker to audiences around the world, and served as a U. S. Marine. He loves good beer, good friends, and good stories.

Photo by Yasmina H on Unsplash

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