Thursday, December 3, 2009

First Time - Part 7: Walk About

You have probably heard the phrase ‘Management by Walking About.” Except it’s not managing, it’s leading. Simply put, you need to be seen by your people. And not in your office. Get up out of your chair, get out from behind your desk, leave the office, leave the tent and go walk around. Make it a point to be seen every day in your workspaces – no matter how they are defined.

Robert Townsend, who many years ago made Avis #2 from its former position at the bottom of the ‘pile’ (“We try harder”), referred to the wood-paneled offices of the senior executives in many companies as ‘the mahogany prison,’ where senior executives sequestered themselves behind paneled doors and plush carpets and disconnected themselves from the real organization.

To combat this is a life-long effort and it begins with your first day on the job in your very first leadership position. You have to work at it every day, and you should make it part of your daily schedule. I learned this lesson from a long list of great leaders, who every day made it a point to spend time ‘among the troops,’ walking around the ship or the garrison, or walking around the factory floor, or across the trading floor.

But the key was that they were seen regularly and frequently, and they made themselves available for discussions with their ‘troops.’ The impact on the people is always striking and positive – even during the worst times. People not only saw the boss, they could talk with the ‘boss,’ find out what was really going on, what was just nonsense, make suggestions, and simply get to know and be known by the ‘boss.’ And the boss gets similar benefits, feeling the real pulse of the organization and understanding the real hopes and fears of the people ‘on the shop floor.’

In the Army or the Marines you will sometimes find young platoon leaders and company commanders ‘hanging around’ battalion, waiting for pearls of wisdom from the ‘old man,’ and often waiting to be seen. Some Battalion commanders – the poor ones – will reward the ‘sucking up.’ But the good ones will wonder why you are at battalion when you should be with your platoon or company. In fact, the good platoon leaders and company commanders are the ones they don’t see a lot of. The same is true in any business.

Getting out of your office, no matter how constructed, will become increasingly difficult as you progress up through the organization and you must fight for spending time doing this every day. This is a simple, but invaluable lesson. But it is one you need to start to learn on your first day and work at for the rest of your career. So, get up and go for a walk.


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