Have you ever had one of those bosses who was never around? They worked in an office with the door closed, they never came to your work area or location, they spent all their time in meetings, or maybe didn’t even know your name? As an employee, it can be incredibly discouraging to have a disengaged boss.
The problem is that most leaders don’t understand the power of their presence. This is probably why, according to the State of the American Workplace report by Gallup, 70% of employees are disengaged with their company.
In an earlier article, called 10 Simple Ways to Become an Extraordinary Leader in 2015, I described 10 activities to become a better leader in the new year. Number one on that list was being present. Being present is exactly what it means. Employees need to see you and you need to see them.
So why is it important that employees interact with their boss on a regular basis? Let me suggest five simple reasons, especially in this time of decentralized offices and remote locations, why you need to be present as a leader.
You ensure proper communication. Robert Whipple has a great new article out called Face to Face that addresses this very issue. He refers to the old UCLA study that showed that only 7% of what is understood is from words, the rest comes from facial expressions and the tone of your voice. He suggests in a time of decentralized offices, an over-reliance on texts and e-mails will cause your communications to suffer. You must see your employees face to face to ensure your message is understood.
You see what is really going on. I wrote about this in an articled called 5 Lessons from the Shop Floor. The point of that article is that, as a leader, you need to get out of your office and go to where the value-added work is being done. Too many times, leaders make decisions based on what they think is going on. Unless you spend time with your employees, there will be a significant gap between reality and your assumptions on reality.
You learn new things. There is a rich and useful world of “tribal knowledge” to be discovered. The collective wisdom of your employees is incredible but you need to be present to learn about it. Your employees know what works and what doesn’t. They know where the real problems and opportunities are. Spending time with employees gives you a new perspective and can boost your improvement activities.
They see you as approachable. Every boss likes to say they are approachable but what do your actions tell your employees? Do you work with your office door shut? Do you walk through the office looking down at the floor? Demonstrate you are approachable by getting out of your office with the purpose of saying good morning to your employees. If you have remote employees, spend a week working at their location so they see you. The more approachable you appear, the more likely they will open up and talk to you.
They see you as part of the team. Too often, leaders think they are more important than their employees. The truth is that more value-added activity is occurring with your employees than you. You may be the coach, but they are on the field making it happen every day. By being present and showing respect to your employees, they see you as an important part of the team not just a name on the bottom of an e-mail.
They see you as the company. Whether you like it or not, your employees see you as the company. If you are distant and disengaged as a leader, how do you expect they will act towards the company? The truth is that frontline leaders trump CEOs when it comes to employee engagement. In a recent HBR survey, 73% of respondents said that frontline managers were vitally important to achieving a high level of employee engagement. If you want engaged employees, you need to be an engaged leader.
The fact that 70% of employees in the U.S. are disengaged at work tells me that, as leaders, we still have a lot of work to do to improve our leadership skills. One of the most important skills is simply being present. Too often, leaders are disconnected and disengaged. Being present ensures you are communicating properly, that you face reality and see what your employees see, that you learn more about what is really going on, that you become more approachable, that you are seen as part of the team, and that you foster an environment of employee engagement. Simply getting out of your office and spending time with your employees will make you a better leader.
So what do you think? Can the power of your presence change the level of employee engagement? Do you think we are too busy as leaders to spend time with our employees? Are there other ways to communicate with employees to increase engagement? Can webinars, video conferencing, and the use of the company intranet take the place of being present? Let me know what you think!