As a leader, how comfortable are you to be walkabout and amongst your people? Or do you prefer to wait for them to come to you in the safety of your office?
How visible are you in your role? Do you prefer to work alone or together with others? If you are a leader, are you always seen in your office or are you known to be “around your troops?” Do you wait for your people to come to you or are you more out and about and amongst them? What is your preferred style? How comfortable are you amongst your people, or is your office a “safer place” for you?
Management by Walkabout
Merriam-Webster defines “walkabout” as a 1908 coinage that refers primarily to “a short period of wandering bush life engaged in by an Australian aborigine as an occasional interruption of regular work”.
Obviously that is not what I am referring to here, but the term has become quite well used in Australia. I want to discuss this in the business leadership style context that highlights management’s exposure amongst those that they lead.
Up the Organization
I was first introduced to this concept when decades ago I read the then AVIS CEO, Robert Townsend’s book “Up the Organization”. There are a number of his sayings and doings that I still regularly quote from today which I will refrain from doing here, but one stood out for me that I wish to draw on here: he chose not to have an office. An EA yes, but no office. His approach was that as CEO his place was either:
- with his clients or client organisations
- walking about his operations or with his people
- In the Boardroom (or other meeting rooms) challenging, debating and implementing what he had heard, learned and observed.
There are probably not many topics written about as much as leadership, and of course what I’m talking about here is about leadership – style.
One of the best metaphors in this topic’s context is the military one of the general’s style.
Some are known to be the master strategists who, from the safe distance of their command post tent, direct the operations committing their troops to their destinies to drive the required outcomes – Leading from behind.
Others (who may be just as strategic) prefer to be out in the trenches rubbing shoulders with their men, inspiring them with their presence and their encouragement – leading from within or even from the front.
Which of these two scenarios do you think the troops are more fired up in or feel more valued? Which do you think will “do whatever it takes”? Literally prepared to die for him?
Neither of these is necessarily right or wrong or better or worse, is it? Of course the right choice will often be circumstantial, but it does highlight very different styles of leadership, much of which is just a relevant in business leadership today.
Walkabout with style
I have been facilitating and coaching in a large corporate organization in Singapore over the last month where it has been very interesting to watch the typical corporate dynamics play out around me. One leader stood out for me in that environment, which partly inspired this blog. He has a wonderful style of walking about on the floor and engaging with those he leads, those whose support he needs and those he answers to. He is just as busy as the best of those around him, but is seen to make time to talk to everyone – to listen to them and make them feel important. I could see how his people and those around him respond to that.
That is not only a style – that is a skill. A leadership skill. One that really works for him.
My experience, as an employee and both as a leader myself and today as a coach and mentor to some awesome leaders is that this style can be such a successful one. People that know and understand the vision they are being led towards and are made to feel important in the role that they play in the achievement of that vision will “do whatever it takes” similarly to the military metaphor used above.
Yet how many leaders will know this or be aware of this and yet still choose to remain in the safety of their office (did I really say “ivory tower”?) and wait for things to come to them? Preferring to use meetings and emails to command and communicate, rather than investing the time in building and developing relationships with those they lead?
In my corporate life I often used my lunch break to take a walk. Sometimes to deal with stress, sometimes just to have a think and sometimes to have a chat with someone. It was a great way to get away from the schedule and everything related to that.
I would quite often seek the company of a peer of a subordinate to bounce an idea off, or just to listen to what they had on their mind.
I’m sure you will all do the same from time to time and then often wonder why you don’t do it more often, right?
This was also one of my ways of creating Me Time, which of course I now practice with much more focus. All of my clients get exposed to this concept in a coaching program.
Visibility through walkabout
In my blog Visibility I spoke about putting yourself in a position where you are exposed to others around you, be it subordinates, peers, stakeholders or bosses. That we can’t rely solely on our performance to gain us the credibility and visibility we need for corporate success and advancement, that we have to pro-actively “blow our own trumpet” to have those that matter notice what we are up to. I wrote more about that also in Managing Expectations.
However, in the context of this blog, my recommendation for visibility and exposure is not along those lines, but in doing so to make yourself more accessible to those you lead and to those around you that can benefit from your presence.
Think about it – how difficult is it sometimes to get access to your boss? You know, to just shoot the breeze or run an idea past them? If they are the “safety of my office” type leaders, it can be quite challenging, cant it?
Would you agree with me that it would be worthwhile for your subordinates to have more of that kind of access to you?
So what if you made a conscious choice to become more visible? To make yourself more accessible? To introduce or enhance your style of management by walkabout? To be interested in and to make time to talk and to listen to (your) people. To encourage them; to inspire them to greater things. To make them feel part of your vision; part of the team; part of your organizations success; to play and important role in achieving that together.
Isn’t that what leadership is all about? Please remember that leadership isn’t a passive title conferred upon you; it is an active responsibility that has to be taken and driven to make it work.
Why not add this technique to your style and see if it doesn’t enhance your outcomes and help your staff willingly want to “do what it takes” for you all to succeed?
What if you could?