Many people aspire to positions of leadership. Some even crave, for all the wrong reasons, the power and attention that come with being in charge.

Unfortunately, fewer of us think about what kind of leader we’d like to be, as leading the workforce of today is much more diverse and challenging than it’s ever been.  Simply put, this is not a workforce that just follows orders, it’s a workforce that wants and expects to be heard.

So do you want to be that distant boss giving orders from the sanctity of your big, cushy office, while basking in your importance?

Or do you envision something different? Wouldn’t it be nice to stay connected to the people within your organization, right there with them in the trenches?

So, what is Leading By Walking Around

Leading by Walking Around, sometimes called LBWA, means what it sounds like: you walk around and talk one-on-one with team members. This kind of casual conversation facilitates more hands-on participation in the life of your organization.

Some might argue that LBWA is a dated approach, when today’s technology offers time-saving access to alternative forms of communication (texting and emails, for example).  However, smart leaders know there’s no substitute for getting out from behind the desk to explore what’s really going on inside the organization.

So how did I learn about this very simple leadership technique?  In 1995, I was asked to relocate and become the partner in charge of an office that was in transition.  I was just 35 and the average age of the partners was somewhere around 55, so I was not anticipating an easy transition.  Before relocating, my CEO gave me the best advice I’d ever received.  He said walk around during the day.  Stop and chat with your people, not just the partners.  Chat with the receptionist, the supply clerk, all people at all levels of your office.  He said you will be amazed at what you learn and the respect you will ultimately gain for these individuals.  And you know what, I implemented this style of leadership for the next 20 years of my career, and sometimes it’s those little things you do that have the biggest impact on creating loyalty and trust of the people you lead.

Ready to start walking?

Here are some ideas for successfully implementing this simple but powerful tool.

  • Do it for the right reasons. Don’t walk around because you think you “have” to. Instead, cultivate a sincere interest in members of your team and in helping them do their best and achieve their goals.
  • Get in the habit. Make walking around part of your routine. Set aside time each day to visit different departments and catch up on how things are going.  Go into your people’s office and just sit down.  It might freak them out the first time you do but eventually they realize you are there to help and will open up.
  • Keep it casual. Your work may be serious business, but it’s okay to relax a little and have fun. It’s also okay if non-work topics come up from time to time. People like having a boss who cares about their kids or hobbies. But don’t overdo it – nobody wants to feel like you’re looking over their shoulders all the time!
  • Be nice and dont play favorites. Be an equal opportunity walker. Don’t have just one department or handful of people you talk to, while ignoring the rest.
  • Pay attention. You have two ears and one mouth, so listen more than you talk. Ask for feedback, suggestions, and ideas. Everyone likes knowing that their opinions matter.
  • Be honest and responsive. Answer questions openly and honestly. If you don’t have an answer on the spot, make a point to find out and follow up as quickly as possible.  Also, if it’s a suggestion you know can’t be implemented, be honest and tell them why.
  • Don’t circumvent other managers.  Some employees may take advantage of your presence to complain about a supervisor who reports to you.  Counsel them to discuss any concerns or issues fully with their supervisor first.  If you have concerns regarding the judgement of the supervisor, don’t indicate this to the employee, but follow up privately with the supervisor.
  • Share your dreams.  As a Yukon Dog Team handler used to say, “The view only changes for the lead dog.”  LBWA is a solid opportunity to make sure when you lead the organization in a new direction, the employees behind you don’t trip over themselves trying to follow.  Tell them about your vision for the organization, and where they fit into the “big picture.” Reveal the goals and objectives you want them to help you fulfill together as a team.
  • Praise in public, criticize in private.  Look for victories.  When you find one, applaud it.  Thank them on the spot in front of others.

Your organization is only as strong as the relationships you build between you and your people. If you can master the lost art of LBWA, you’ll be on the path to Thrive, not Just Survive.

Happy walking!

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