Mastering Essential Leadership Complexity for Knowledge Work: A Hybrid Frontier

Sherri Douville
8 min readFeb 5, 2023

I’ve been asked dozens of times including by incredibly successful, powerful people for advice on remote work. Why would they ask me? I am CEO of Medigram, the Mobile Medicine company and we have always been a remote first team. We’re told by a recognized leadership expert that our groundbreaking multidisciplinary team has amongst the best retention in the tech industry. Further, as repeat editor of industry shaping multidisciplinary academic/professional education books; we have for years, led dozens of the brightest leaders in their functions in the work near exclusively in a remote way. Guess what? the top people in disparate fields that are essential in healthcare IT domains rarely cluster in one city. Both books launched #1 new releases in multiple categories on Amazon and both remain Kindle best sellers in medical informatics. Both books are relied upon by industry leaders to help build world leading accredited technical standard, certification, and IT transformation strategy. Thank you to the Medigram team for building the teams and providing the bulk of the strategy, planning, management, leadership, operating infrastructure, & coaching to the program teams that make up our work together, including these books. Many CIOs and engineers consider multi organization participation, regulated textbooks to be equivalent or greater than technology programs in scope and complexity.

This post will focus on how we had to change, adapt, and learn new things to lead dozens of international industry leading contributors remotely.

I am a huge fan of talent optimization because I believe that complex work such as healthcare IT can only be done in teams. Talent optimization empowers teams to take individual and collective ownership of specific skills and competencies required to design, run, and deliver complex multi disciplinary program portfolios.

Courtesy of our talent and leadership advisor and coauthor x2 books, Karen Jaw-Madson, the talent optimization system that we use at Medigram and as series editor, leverages 60 years of science and illustrates profiles that characterize what competencies both as individuals and teams as a whole possess and what to expect from them. This talent optimization is the alignment of people with strategy for results. h/t Karen

I have always enjoyed in person meetings and I empathize with those profiles that personally feel less effective remotely than in person. One profile is that of a “captain” whose personal leadership effectiveness has historically stemmed much from in person charisma, a historical marker of a successful leader. They can thrive on small talk. That’s not a judgment, it’s something to be aware of even if you’re an engineer or scientist that’s allergic to small talk; there are likely essential people to your organization who actually “need” small talk. As a venturer profile, I don’t care about small talk myself though I’m mindful of flexing to others. That’s why we need a mix of in person with remote work. Captain personas have dominated past leadership positions and will continue playing important roles including potentially leadership roles in situations marked by profound self awareness. As a side note, while charismatic, inspirational communicators, captains still provide value in business today and even healthcare IT; the complexity of healthcare IT and modern work in general requires so much more than that though.

Obviously, certain types of jobs are not fully possible as remote at this time such as an endocrine surgeon, for example. In this post we focus on knowledge workers.

What are the three things to know:

1) Productivity in a remote or in person context is highly specific to the role.

2) Lack of productivity is highly individual based on strengths of and personality of any specific leader.

3) The hybrid work horse has left the barn so it’s time to adapt, upskill, and optimize

We have to be willing to finely diagnose every role and project for every kind of skill and competency needed in order to:

1) Build the right teams with the right skill sets

2) Hire the correct competencies in the first place

3) Radically slash biases and isms related to “managing with vagueness”

What’s the Rub for Knowledge Workers? Surprise, Remote Work Means More Productivity

Knowledge workers working remotely are “significantly less likely to get drawn into large meetings, and this leaves us more time for client or customer work and for training and development, which most people would argue is a good thing.”

How did we build best selling books with dozens of international contributors and drive productivity from remote work?

1) We leaned into the details and complexity of remote work effectiveness. Running remote programs, meetings, events presents an explosion of preparation and production details for effectiveness. Embrace it. See the blue grid below. Challenge yourself to transition from “golf” to “basketball” in pace and scope of play. We had to learn a lot here and the adaptation pains even sucked a lot of the time.

2) We were very intentional about teamwork and culture. We weren’t default “showing up,” in person, we were intentionally showing up for each other remotely.

3) We leverage talent optimization and its 60 years of science.

Leaders today have to be so much more than charismatic orators. Knowledge alone while essential, is only a small fraction of leadership effectiveness. Leaders today have to demonstrate multiple forms of leadership and be constantly building in themselves and their teams, constellations of both classic and future facing skills and competencies. The ones we recognize and work on are all pictured in the three grids below.

It’s entertaining, the whole controversy over remote work. This is not a political issue, it’s not masks. This is simply one configuration of work and part of the train that’s already left called the “Hybrid work train.” I think every business will need a blended style moving forward.

“The question is not whether or not to go hybrid or remote, but whether the trust and autonomy are given to staff. For success with hybrid work, you need the culture and the engagement. Culture sets the expectations and establishes/reinforces patterns of behavior (i.e. productivity and interactions with people). Engagement fosters the degree in which people are motivated to be involved in their work and with their colleagues.”

— Karen Jaw-Madson Culture, Talent Optimization, Leadership, & Change Advisor, Author #CultureYourCultureBook, Founder of Future of Work platform @aNewHR, Instructor @StanfordCSP

Why is the “fight” amusing? Because the “opinion” that rails against remote work is often directly tied to the person’s own history, comfort level, perspective, and skillset relative to remote work.

Let’s take that classic profile of a team captain (bear in mind there will always be exceptions) but there’s a reason why leaders of the past were called “captains of industry.” But what they often don’t like, especially seasoned leaders? it’s remote work. Why? Because it doesn’t play to their natural strengths so now some of them and their allies have decided and want to tell the world that remote work is “bad.”

Why? Because they can’t use in person charisma to influence. But what I believe they need is a new skill set in addition to their legacy tools. We need to rethink skills and competencies along three dimensions all pictured.

  1. Legacy leadership skills
Credit: Daniel Mueller

2. Modern essential work skills

Image credit: McKinsey

3. Team skills/talent optimization required for executing full lifecycle healthcare technology innovation

Image credit: Jaco Advisory Group

Why? Different people of different personalities and generations need different forms of leadership from us. We have to be versatile, multiple position, multiple sport athletes as leaders.

In our Transformational leadership chapter 5 in the Advanced Health Technology book, William Harding, Ph.D., Mike Ng, Brittany Partridge, and I covered what evidence tells us are effective forms of leadership today.

Here is a great paper on screening team members’ capabilities for a hybrid work model:

Sundin, Kirsten. “Virtual Teams: Work/Life Challenges — Keeping Remote Employees Engaged.” (2010)

Here is a list of great tactical tips from global technology leaders such as Will Conaway and other leaders to succeed with remote work.

Making remote and hybrid work effective isn’t one size fits all. If anyone in the “supply chain” of board, leadership, or staff don’t have the skills and competencies, it might not be a good option for your organization. Dynamic times!

Thank you to Karen Jaw-Madson for your partnership in this work and who brings decades of experience in culture leadership including for effective transformation of large IT organizations in life sciences enterprises for reviewing and improving this article.

Harding, Ng, Partridge, Douville “Extinction is Eminent Without Effective Transformational Leadership: Closing Leadership Gaps That Prevent Execution” In: Douville, S. (Ed.). (2023). Advanced Health Technology: Managing Risk While Tackling Barriers to Rapid Acceleration (1st ed.). Productivity Press.

By Sherri Douville, CEO at Medigram, the Mobile Medicine company. Recognized in 8 categories of top CEOs by Board Room Media (Across SMS, mHealth, iOS, IT, Database, Big Data, Android, Healthcare). Top ranked medical market executive worldwide and #1 ranked in mobile technology categories (mhealth, iOS, Android), #1–2 (on any given day) for the cybersecurity market in the U.S. on Crunchbase. Best selling editor/author, Mobile Medicine: Overcoming People, Culture, and Governance & Advanced Health Technology: Managing Risk While Tackling Barriers to Rapid Acceleration, Taylor & Francis; Series Editor for Trustworthy Technology & Innovation + Trustworthy Technology & Innovation in Healthcare. (contracted to advise top academic and professional education publisher Routledge, Taylor & Francis).

Sherri is the co-chair of the IEEE/UL JV for the technical trust standard SG project for Clinical IoT in medicine, P2933. She is passionate about redefining technology, software and data for medicine and advanced health technologies in a way that’s worth the trust of clinicians, our family, and friends. Ms. Douville leverages her books to inform her work on the CHIME CDH security specialization certification board. She also advises and co-founded the Cybersecurity curriculum for the Black Corporate Board Readiness and Women’s Corporate Board Readiness programs at Santa Clara University.