One way for leaders to develop a strong bond with their people is to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Not just their own work, but the work of their direct reports, as well as their reports’ reports. Take time to sit in various offices and seats within the organization and seek to develop new skills and make connections on different levels. Ask about existing challenges within the company and develop empathy for those who are tasked to address them regularly. Brainstorm with staff about how best to address these issues to optimize performance. By bringing yourself down to your people, you will gain their admiration as someone who really seeks to know their situations and improve them.
Of course, another significant benefit is the knowledge that you will learn more about parts of the company about which you are presently not too familiar. Your newfound perspective will add insight to decision making processes large and small.
Another, more sustainable approach to bonding with employees is to actively connect with them on a regular basis. Hewlett Packard (HP) founders William Hewlett and David Packard used a strategy that has become known as MBWA, or Management By Wandering Around. As its name implies, MBWA requires regular walking throughout the workplace. It offers many benefits to leaders and their employees, such as…
- Awareness – Walking around can give you a better understanding of the functions and processes around you. This could be crucial as you begin the decision-making process and want to be able to keep all important information under consideration.
- Relationship building – Your workers will start to feel that you care about what they do and who they are and will come to appreciate you for it. It will also raise workplace morale, knowing that you are committed to them and their success.
- Approachability – The more that you are around, the more that people begin to view you as another person and not simply a distant boss. That, coupled with your proximity, makes it likelier that they’ll tell you what’s really going on. You may learn about issues before they become real problems.
- New ideas – Oftentimes, creative thoughts occur “in the moment” and not at formal meetings. Your presence promotes casual discussions, so people will more likely feel free to come to you with their ideas.
In order to achieve this, you must use the walk through strategically. Here are some other tips can help you get the most from your strolls:
- Stroll calmly – You want to get around but should not convey hurriedness. Staffers should feel that you’re happy to be there and that this was your intended destination. Project a sense of calm and relaxedness as you interact and you will get people to open up and respond naturally.
- Ask for feedback and be a good listener – Let everyone know that you want to hear what they have to say in order to improve the workplace and improve performance. Hold back as much as possible from saying what you think, at least for now.
- Be judicious in your observations – If you notice something positive, offer a compliment. If you see something that concerns you, bite your tongue and talk to the person later, in private.
- Use your time wisely – Don’t spend a disproportionate amount of time in one particular area. Make sure to talk with different people on different levels within the organization. Everyone should feel you to be approachable and genuinely interested in them.
Though a leader’s direct involvement can really energize her team or company, she should be careful not to become too involved. This will cheapen the effect and make people feel as if you are watching them closely.
I made that mistake once at the beginning of my principal tenure. I would regularly come out to join staffers who managed the carpool line, thinking that such involvement would help the teachers and offer me another opportunity to engage with parents and students. All of that was fine, until I started taking over the process and stepping on some toes as I did. I got the hint when my associate principal told me that it was “beneath me” to be out there barking carpool instructions. That was her nice way of saying that I had gone a bit too far and had worn out my welcome.
Leaders have to walk a fine line in the workplace. On the one hand, people want them to be interested and involved. On the other hand, they can easily wear out their welcome by becoming meddlesome and “stealing” the process from those who were tasked to complete it. So long as leaders take the necessary measures to remain in others’ good graces, they will find that their time in the trenches will be time very well spent.
This post first appeared in SmartBlog on Leadership.