Charlene Walters: “Maintaining the balance between accountability and autonomy”

In order to create a healthy and empowered team, it’s all about balance. Balance in communication, oversight, empathy, team-building and flexibility. Don’t be a micromanager, but don’t be too checked out either. Trust that remote employees are performing at their best while establishing guardrails to ensure that it’s happening. Lead by example and offer empathy […]

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In order to create a healthy and empowered team, it’s all about balance. Balance in communication, oversight, empathy, team-building and flexibility. Don’t be a micromanager, but don’t be too checked out either. Trust that remote employees are performing at their best while establishing guardrails to ensure that it’s happening. Lead by example and offer empathy and support to those on your team. You set the tone at the top. Always remember that it’s also your job to build a team and show appreciation consistently.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlene Walters.

Charlene Walters, MBA, PhD, is an entrepreneurship coach, business and branding mentor, trainer and author of Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur. She serves as a mentor on Entrepreneur magazine’s “Ask an Expert” forum and through her own consulting business (Charlene Walters, MBA, PhD, LLC), is featured among other CEOs, Influencers and Celebrities on the BAM Network and was recently selected as one of 150 Marketers to Follow by Rubicly. Charlene developed a digital entrepreneurship MBA program and is an entrepreneur who enjoys combining her knowledge and love of marketing and business strategy with her passion for innovation and desire to help others succeed.

Charlene also wrote a memoir about overcoming tragedy/loss and moving forward in life based on her own personal experience (pre-publication). As part of that, she serves as a speaker and mentor to others, and writes and contributes to numerous publications on business and motivational topics. Charlene also writes a blog called Entrepreneurship, Life Enthusiasm & Energizing Your Brand and has taught hundreds of business, marketing and entrepreneurship courses and workshops for businesses and universities.

Charlene is also a busy single mom currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina with her two beautiful daughters.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

Absolutely. I’d be happy to. I grew up in Connecticut and moved to Miami as soon as I graduated with an undergraduate degree in English (goodbye snow). I started my career in sales and marketing and really enjoyed the hustle of making deals and matching customers with products which led to my growing love of business. I decided to pursue my MBA in management. From there, I went on to earn my PhD in marketing. I continued to move on professionally to other positions in marketing and higher education before eventually creating a digital entrepreneurship MBA program. I loved the energy of it- it was wonderful to be able to work with business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. I also began to do some mentoring with Entrepreneur’s “Ask an Expert” Platform.

Next, I wrote the book Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur: 10 Mindset Shifts for Women to Take Action, Unleash Creativity and Achieve Financial Success (which is available for pre-order) and launched my own company to work on speaking, consulting, mentoring and training full-time as an entrepreneurship coach and business and branding mentor. I also became a mom along the way which is still one of my biggest accomplishments.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I’ve experienced so many interesting things, but I’d like to think that the most interesting thing hasn’t happened to me yet. Probably some of the biggest highlights that I’ve had so far include the phenomenal people I’ve met or worked with and some of the enlightening exchanges we’ve shared. I’ve met many wonderful individuals in the media and publishing industries, been a guest on innovative podcasts, engaged with thought leaders from around the world, talked to people from all walks of life, and have continued to grow with each and every interaction. What’s most interesting about me is the path I’ve taken and continue to take (full of twists and turns). 2021 is a year that is already scheduled full of new opportunities and stories and I believe that the best is yet to come so stay tuned….

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have made so many little mistakes along the way and continue to do so, but as you mentioned, each time I learn from them and nobody’s perfect (despite appearances). One recent funny story does come to mind. I tend to overprepare for everything, but every once in a while, I’ll wing things due to time constraints. When I wing it, that’s when I tend to make the most mistakes.

I was recently asked to do a YouTube interview late on a Sunday night for the next afternoon (Monday). I was not familiar with the person who was interviewing me but agreed to do it despite having a busy Monday in front of me. Because my schedule was so tight, I didn’t have time to research the interviewer which became problematic when he asked me for advice about his own business during the interview! Yikes. I formulated my response as best I could, doing fairly well, but I learned two things: 1) always do your homework and prepare (no matter what) and 2) don’t overpack your schedule to the point where you can’t adequately do so.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I would tell other business leaders to ensure that their team members have proper work life balance and that they are taking time off for themselves to do the things they love and to spend time with the people who are important to them. Scheduling and self-care are key. I would also ensure that the team members were taking breaks throughout the day, getting enough sleep and taking time for their health, well being and fitness. The more in balance the team is, the happier and more productive they will be.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

I’ve been managing a remote team for many years, more than 10, and have worked remotely for the past 15 years as well. There was no change for me in terms of leading remotely that resulted from the pandemic other than dealing with new issues and obstacles and pivoting to address them.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

The five main challenges associated with leading a remote team are:1) keeping employees engaged 2) fostering effective and open communication 3) ensuring that employees remain productive 4) fostering team building and bonding, and 5) maintaining the balance between accountability and autonomy.

It can be difficult to keep employees engaged remotely because there are so many distractions (children in the home, food, cell phones, social media, etc.). It’s also challenging to foster effective and open communication because you are not seeing the team regularly (in person) and those opportunities do not come about as naturally virtually without being scheduled.

It can also be tougher to ensure that employees are being as productive due to some of the issues mentioned previously. In terms of team building, there are also less opportunities for employees to bond (like at the water cooler or on the elevator) so they have to be orchestrated instead. Lastly, remote leaders are hard pressed to find that balance between micromanagement and being too checked out, but can do so with the right system/schedule in place.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

In terms of keeping employees engaged, communicate with them frequently but not in a demanding way. Maybe send them a quick note to introduce the week or say hello. I’ve even had luck with initiating email trivia challenges and letting team members share their ideas and concerns during virtual meetings. In order to foster effective and open communication, it’s a good best practice to have a regularly scheduled meeting time with each employee and then set meeting times for the whole team too (every other week seems to work best). Don’t overschedule meetings, however, as it can have a negative impact on productivity and employees resent it (trust me).

Frequently ask employees if you can help them in any way, tell them that you appreciate them and inquire about whether or not they have all of the resources they need to be effective on the job. Cultivating a remote environment that focuses on productivity and achieving milestones is crucial. This can be done by setting goals, monitoring progress (productivity vs. hours) and then holding each team member accountable to those goals.

Fostering a team environment can be a little more challenging in a remote environment, however it is not impossible. One big way to help do so is to hold virtual meetings and events with a sole focus on helping team members get to know and appreciate one another. You can ask them to keep a gratitude journal and then you can take turns which each team member outlining what they are grateful for at the organization. Instead of giving out individual awards, offer a small token for each member of the team instead, focusing on what it is about them that you appreciate and are grateful for. This will help the team bond together as a cohesive unit and eliminate jealousy and an overly competitive environment. Finally, it’s critical to maintain the balance between micromanagement and being too far removed. Again, by establishing clear guidelines and expectations, checking in periodically and putting the proper parameters in place, you can effectively find the right balance.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

When I have to give some negative feedback to a remote employee, I start with an email and then tell them that I will call them to discuss. This accomplishes two things- it creates a paper trail and also gives me the opportunity to soften a possibly harsh interpretation of the email. Then, we can talk through the issue and I can give some suggestions and guidance for improvement/set a time for follow up. The conversation also allows the employee to express their side of the situation.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I usually begin the email with a friendly greeting (i.e., Hi [name]. Hope you are well). Then, I compliment them on some aspect of their performance. Next, I introduce the area of needed improvement and some suggestions on how to go about doing so. I finish with another compliment about their performance and then let them know that I will be following up by phone to discuss.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

A lot of these pitfalls can be avoided by having clear policies and guidelines in place, while still allowing some flexibility for employees who may be facing additional challenges (such as homeschooling, sick family members etc.). Remote leaders definitely need to place their focus on productivity and meeting goals vs. hours worked. The schedule is not important- don’t be alarmed if your employees are working different times than you are- what’s being accomplished is most important. Ensure that team members know what’s expected and then outfit them with the proper resources to be successful while providing scheduled check-ins and soliciting feedback.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

In order to create a healthy and empowered team, it’s all about balance. Balance in communication, oversight, empathy, team-building and flexibility. Don’t be a micromanager, but don’t be too checked out either. Trust that remote employees are performing at their best while establishing guardrails to ensure that it’s happening. Lead by example and offer empathy and support to those on your team. You set the tone at the top. Always remember that it’s also your job to build a team and show appreciation consistently.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There are so many worthy causes, and it’s difficult to narrow it down, but I am very passionate about helping women elevate themselves through entrepreneurship and education, particularly single mothers who are the sole breadwinners for their families. I understand what they go through because I have lived it myself. Women are at a disadvantage and typically have to juggle much more than their male counterparts so they would really benefit from some extra backing.

I would love to start a movement to help support these women, providing them with the tools to develop the mindset and the skills that they need to be successful in business, and to foster work-life balance, which is more challenging for women, and again, single mothers in particular. This movement would also benefit their children, through positive role modeling and support, and therefore clearly impact future generations.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love the quote “In the long run, we only hit what we aim at” from Henry David Thoreau. That statement is so true about everything in business and in life. If you don’t put in the time, effort, and the work, you’ll never achieve your goals. This concept is so often lost on people who are often looking for a quick path to success. Everything worth having in life takes a lot of work and a lot of patience. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise.

The other quote that I love and live by is “Go big or go home.” There is really no point in doing anything (a profession, project, business, relationship, etc.) halfway. You’ve got to go all in. You are in charge of its ultimate success or failure so go big or go home! I’ve leaned on both of these sayings in many aspects of my life- particularly those that I’ve been successful at.

Thank you for these great insights!

I want to thank you, and your readers, for taking the time to learn more about me. I am so appreciative and humbled.

They can further follow me on my website/blog, by reading my book Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur or by connecting with me on social media:

Twitter- @CWaltersPhD

Instagram– @CharleneWaltersPhD

LinkedIn- @Charlene Walters, PhD

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