One measure of the greatness of any leader is how well he or she connects with people at all levels.
Some leaders are great at managing relationships upward but lousy at engaging the people who work for them.
This measure is easy to use and is truly indicative of excellence.
Connects Well with People
A good way to evaluate the quality of a leader is to watch the way he or she connects with people both upward and downward. Great leaders are known for being real rather than phony. People describe the great ones as being “a nice person” or “approachable” or “like a friend.”
The idea is the leader does not act aloof and talk down to people. There is no pedestal separating the leader from people in the organization.
There are numerous ways a leader can demonstrate the genuine connection with people. For example, John Chambers, longtime CEO of Cisco worked from a 12X12 foot cubicle and answered his own phone. There was no executive washroom and no corporate plane. He was a master of connecting with people as he roamed the halls of Cisco passing out candy and ice cream.
A more current example is Rich Sheridan of Menlo Innovations. Rich’s latest book “Chief Joy Officer” gives chapter and verse of a culture where the CEO is truly connected to everyone in the organization. If you have not read his incredible story and the impact he is having, pick up a copy of his book.
Other leaders dress more like the workers in jeans. I know one CEO who is more comfortable in a tiedye t-shirt than a suit and tie.
Probably the most helpful way to be connected to people is to walk the deck often. There is a telltale sign that shows whether you are getting enough face time with people.
When you approach a group of workers on the shop or office floor, watch their body language. If they stiffen up and change their posture, you know that your visit is too much of a special event. If the group continues with the same body language, but just welcomes you into the conversation, then you are doing enough walking of the deck.
They used to call this habit MBWA – short for Management By Walking Around. It is, by far, the most enjoyable and easiest way to stay connected with people. I used to love walking up to an employee and asking “What’s the latest rumor.” The neat part is that the employee would tell me.
Likewise, the great leader knows how to stay connected with the people higher in the organization. In this case MBWA does not work too well because there is no real “shop floor” for upper management. Being accessible helps, so know the layout and drop by on occasion to check in, but do not be a pest – there is a fine line.
One suggestion is to experiment with the preferred modes of communication of your superiors. For example I can recall the best way to keep in touch with one of my managers was through voice mail. Another superior would rarely reply to voice mail or e-mail, so I would make sure to stop by to see her in person.
One tip that was helpful to me was to arrive very early in the morning – before any of the upper levels were present. Most executives arrive at work before the general population to prepare for the day and get some quiet work done before the masses arrive.
I would always be in my office working when my manager arrived. There were many occasions when something had to be done to help the manager very early in the morning. Since I was the only one around, I had the opportunity to do little favors for my superior to help her out. Over time, that practice does a lot to enhance trust.
Beating your superior to work consistently demonstrates a kind of dedication. Your manager has no way of knowing when you arrived. You could have gotten there just 5 minutes before her or already been hard at work for an hour.
I always enjoyed having my car make the first set of tracks in the snow of the parking lot. Over time, that built up a helpful reputation for me that paid off in terms of demonstrated dedication.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.