Put Away the Phone. Leave the Office and Start Meeting the People Who Do the Work

Note: The following is an excerpt from the author’s new book, When Leadership Improves, Everyone Wins.

Realize that as leaders, we are signal senders. What signal does it send to our people when we stay on the executive floor or wing or are regularly behind closed doors or glued to our smartphones?

We must realize that when we are constantly caught up with meetings and focused on our computers and smartphones, we are leaving little or no time to be with our people, the people doing the work of our compa­nies. We are sending the signal that we do not feel they are particularly important to us.

Sue Mahanor, when she began with Berkley Life Sciences, heading up their East Coast operations, was to be in the company’s New Jersey office several days a week. Private offices were at a premium, so Sue immediately asked that she just be given a cubicle near her team members. This was perfect for Sue as she believes in the benefit of taking yourself down a peg. And she said the interaction and learning among she and her team members has been invaluable.

Sue is also a believer in taking time daily to step back, breathe deeply, and reflect. She, like most of us, could spend all day responding to emails. But we are so much better if we can find that peace of mind, rather than be focused on checking off tasks, to think about where we want our business to go and how we can best help make that happen. Let’s realize that our people are also our clients — our internal clients! We must focus on the people doing the work of our companies and producing our results!

Highly effective leaders genuinely care about their people, their ideas, and their success, and they let their people know that they care. They are present — with them!

Our leadership presence, how we are perceived and received by others, is founded on our attitude and our character — even how we act when no one is watching. It’s about our positive energy, being there for others and helping them, and being a giver. It’s about being genuine and comfortable in our own skin. Keeping our composure, remaining calm, letting our team members, all of them, sense that we have confi­dence in them as well as ourselves — this is leadership presence.

Let’s always send the signal, “When we do our best together, we will all succeed.”

The best way to be present is in conversation. How do we make time for more conversations? Here are some suggestions:

Meetings — Attend only the meetings in which our attendance is essential. Improve the efficiency of meetings. Set objectives and an agenda. Get those to our attendees well in advance, and manage the time of the meetings. Ask those in these meetings how we can have fewer and more efficient meetings. They will know, especially if they realize we are serious in our inquiry.

Productivity — Delegate work and responsibilities that we do not have to do per­sonally, which gives others opportunities to learn and grow and frees up our time to speak with our people. Get help designing a customized productivity improvement plan for our emails, based on our personal schedules, energy flow, and preferences.

Listen — Realize that the most effective open door policy is getting out of our offices and walking the halls for at least some time every day.  Make conversations a top priority, especially one-on-one conversations. Listen patiently, wanting to understand and learn from everyone. Realize that the best ideas are bottom-up ideas.

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Appreciation — Appreciate that leadership is how we help people feel about themselves. We must recognize that the bulk of the work of the company is being done outside the executive wing, on the other floors, and not by the CEO and other senior people.

When you get out of meetings and start walking around, talking to people, will you know how? Here are some things to ask:

  • How are you doing?
  • What are you hearing from our clients?
  • What improvements could be made in our business?
  • How can I help you?
  • What do you think should be our priorities?
  • What advice do you have for me?

They will appreciate our asking for their ideas. People want to feel heard and that their ideas matter to us. We’ll gain a wealth of valuable insight.

Another call to action is to think about our purpose in business, for all of us, whether CEOs, other senior executives, or up-and-comers. Let’s recognize that we should, above all, be a great teammate — and let’s think about what that looks like. It surely means being present, as it does genuinely caring about and helping others learn, grow, and succeed.