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Leadership Thought #390 – Get Out From Behind Your Desk

July 25, 2012

Free Men Having Coffee Break Stock Photo

When I encounter a leader who is always sitting behind his desk or in meetings, it is a big red flag for me.  While I am not a fan of a constant open-door policy, having your door closed all the time is much worse.  You need to get up from your chair, walk out of your office, and circulate amongst your employees.  In addition, you also need to be out in the field regularly, meeting with your top customers and business partners.  Leadership is an active not passive activity.

It’s tempting to stay in the office and always keep an eye on things.  If anything of importance happens, you will be there to navigate the ship.   However, especially as you grow, you will stifle your direct report’s ability to step up and show what they can do if you are always looking over their shoulder.  It is amazing what people can solve on their own if the boss isn’t there to assume the burden.  In addition, if you are always looking at things from the top down, you get a distorted view of what is happening on the ground and in the trenches.

People tend to respect leaders with whom they see and interact.  The simple act of management by walking around the office or job site makes you visible and indicates you care about what is going on.  You will get a lot of traction by asking basic questions like the following:

  • “What could we improve around here?”
  • “What’s the biggest obstacle to your success right now?”
  • “What’s working well?”
  • “What do you like (or not like) about working here?”

Moreover, clients who do a lot of business with your company appreciate seeing the leader every now and then.  They want to know that they are important to you and that they warrant your attention.  You also get the chance to ask them questions about what they need, hear about what’s happening in the industry, and keep your finger on the pulse of what’s important, which is always a good thing.

Once you grow beyond the startup phase, your efforts can sometimes feel less tangible even though they are more important.  You need to hire people to manage outcomes and let them tend to tasks.  Your role shifts to one of oversight.  You need to make sure all the parts of the organization are working well together, make good business decisions, ensure a positive culture, and work environment, position the organization for long-term success, and maintain critical strategic relationships.     You need to be out there observing, learning, and interacting with your customers, colleagues, and employees.  You grow smarter about your business by regularly interacting with the people that matter to its success.  It is extremely hard to do any of these things from behind a desk.