Leadership : Leaders Need to be Seen

Ed spent most of his career working in a large Fortune 50 company. He had the opportunity to work with people up and down the old corporate organizational chart – from dynamic and innovative clerks to bumbling, ineffective VPs and CEOs.  

Currently, he is co-founder on Generation 2000 InSite Management Consultants (www.g2insite.com). This article is one of many other stories that Ed and his partner Jeannette Galvanek have written as part of their forthcoming e-book "Simple Stories For Leadership Insights".   
During World War II, one of the most effective military leaders was Field Marshall Rommel (the Desert Fox). A key leadership attribute was that he frequently visited, talked and ate with the front line troops. While greatly outnumbered in troops and resources, he developed a legendary reputation with his opponents. 

Rommel had at least one of the characteristics of all outstanding leaders –true leaders create a culture of spirits and hearts not just heads and hands.

I remembered this and noted that many corporate leaders isolate themselves in their plush offices and people start to view them as the Corporate Aristocracy.

During my years with a Fortune 50 company, I observed how leaders developed increasingly narrow vision as they moved up the organization charts. They seemed to be seduced by the limos, executive dinning rooms and other perks that came with every promotion.

I experienced this first hand when I was appointed to a function that required organizing quarterly presentations of departmental performance awards. The group that won the award always went to the executive conference rooms to receive the award. Fred, the VP, would have a short speech, presented the award and the group would then leave. It was a very staged event. I jumped at the chance to try something new.

I approached Fred with a suggestion, I recommended that he go to the winning group’s work area in person and present the award. He seemed to be reluctant at first but he agreed.

The award day came and I accompanied Fred to the work area, I wasn’t sure he even knew where it was. The group was ready, I don’t think anyone was absent, the group arranged for snacks and goodies. It was a big success – people were delighted that Fred came to visit them. The award seemed to be less important than the fact that they had a chance to meet Fred in a more comfortable manner and to talk with him.  Fred benefited also, he heard more about what was going on in his area. People talked about the event for some time and future award ceremonies were never again held in the executive rooms.

Lessons for Leadership:

"Corporate Aristocracy type" Leadership is very Old Economy. Tom Peters coined the phrase “Management By Walking Around” in the 1980s. To his credit the concept is still current. Get out of your office go to where your people are located and talk with them.

In one of the best articles on leadership published in The Harvard Business Review, Naval Officer Mike Abrashoff mentioned, “… I had come to realize over the course of my career that no commanding officer has a monopoly on a ship’s skills and brainpower. There’s an astonishing amount of creativity and know-how below decks, just waiting to be unleashed. To set it loose and make it flourish, a leader should provide vision and values, and then guide, coach, and even follow his people.”

Get rid of the special parking places, the executive dining room, anything that gets between you and the people who you support – yes, support.  In his book Servant Leadership Robert Greenleaf talks about, “… the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”

Meet the people you support often. Don’t wait for the special events. Invite small groups to neutral area, the cafeteria during off peak hours is good. If this doesn’t work, your office is OK, but be sure that your desk is not a barrier. Move your chair to the front of your desk. Have people speak first and listen. Ask what their suggestions are to do things differently.

Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, once said, "Any company trying to compete must figure out a way to engage the mind of every employee".

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

       -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"The e-leader is one who creates a culture where people dream, imagine, collaborate, invent, and experiment". Robert Hargrove

"The bigger the company, the more it is that the chief executive has lost touch with the front lines. This might be the single most important factor limiting the growth of a corporation". The Power Of Simplicity, by Jack Trout.  
Ed Konczal
Generation 2000 Management Consultants
Phone: (1) 732 463 7075 
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