The One Mistake to Avoid as a New Leader

You got the new job. You accepted the promotion. You’re in charge now. Whether you’re a first-time leader or an experienced manager in a new role, the first 100 days are critical. It’s important to set the tone early.

One of the biggest mistakes I see new leaders make is when they spend all their time working in their office. It’s even worse when they work with the door closed. It’s natural to feel the need to work hard when you are moved into a new role but isolating yourself is the worst thing you can do as a new leader. You need to get out of your office and go to where your people are. You need to employ MBWA.

“See and be seen. Get out of your office, walk the talk, make yourself visible and accessible.” J. Willard Marriot

MBWA stands for “Management by Wandering Around.” MBWA means getting out of your office and wandering around in an unstructured manner. The goal is to walk through the workplace to check with employees, equipment, and the status of ongoing work. MBWA was originally used at Hewlett-Packard and described in detail in the book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies. It’s a great way to “see and be seen.”

Here are 4 reasons why you should get out of your office and employ MBWA:

Observe. Go to where your people are and see what is going on. Observe the conditions, the mood, the work-in-progress, the activities, and the potential problems. In Lean Manufacturing terms, observe what is happening at gemba, the place where value is created. Don’t rely on reports of what is happening, go see it yourself. What is working? What isn’t? What problems do you see? What areas need improvement? A leader that observes his team understands their challenges.

“Expect what you inspect.” W. Edwards Deming

Listen. Listen to what your team is saying. People love to talk. Ask them what they are working on. Find out what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Ask them for areas they think should be improved. You’ll be surprised what you learn. Many employees have great ideas but they are reluctant to share because they were ignored by managers in the past. It may take a while to get the best ideas but keep at it. The more you listen, the more you show you care.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill

Be seen. One of the biggest reasons to get out of your office is to be seen. Your team will appreciate the fact you took the time to see what they are doing. It shows you care. They will also be observing you closely so you can use this time to demonstrate your values. If you spend time looking at the safety of the workplace, they will know you care about safety. If you pick up trash, they will see you care about having a clean workplace. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

“Quality requires your Presence.” Eckhart Tolle

Communicate. Spending time with your employees in their work environment gives you the opportunity to communicate one-on-one. This is when you can get to know your people more and answer their questions. It’s hard in large meetings to communicate the reasons for your actions but one-one-one time allows you to clarify. Listen and talking to your team shows respect and it demonstrates you care.

“Honest communication is built on truth and integrity and upon respect of the one for the other.” Benjamin E. Mays

Don’t make the mistake of spending all your time in your office and away from your team. Get out and be with your people. See and be seen. Communicate and listen. You will learn new things and observe what is really going on. Your team will appreciate that you took time out of your day to be with them.

What do you think? Have you tried MBWA? How did it work? What else can we gain by getting out of our office and going to where our people are? Let me know in the comment section below.

Are Employees an Expense or an Asset? The Answer May Surprise You

“Being an employee of several different companies, I can honestly say that I’ve felt like nothing more than a line item on a spreadsheet somewhere that an accountant is desperately trying to eliminate.”

This comment was written by a reader on my recent article, Putting Employees Ahead of Customers, and it got me thinking. Why do so many managers treat their employees like a cost that needs to be eliminated?

My conclusion was that the problem may be related to accounting. Why? Because in accounting, employees are an expense.

Consider this. By accounting rules, the cost of workers is treated as an expense on the income statement. In fact, personnel expense is one of the highest costs a company incurs. Many managers see this sizable cost every month and conclude that people are expensive. They see people as a problem. By seeing people as a costly expense, these managers think that a quick way to more profits is by reducing people or salaries. They look at employees as an expense or a problem that must be reduced or eliminated.

“Assets are company resources which have future economic value.”

Great leaders see things differently. They consider employees as an asset. In accounting terms, assets are company resources which have future economic value. Instead of seeing employees as a problem, these leaders see them as a valuable resource. They know that people have the capability to grow sales, satisfy customers, improve processes, innovate products, and do countless other things that add money to both the top and bottom line. As a CEO, I see daily examples of this in my business, Peak Demand.

If you think of employees as an asset, as I do, you treat them differently. You understand the importance of keeping them happy and operating at peak performance. You recognize the importance of leadership. You realize your team will be at their best when they are loved, appreciated, respected, engaged, and acknowledged.

It seems simple to me but it’s not often practiced. I think one of the problems is the lack of leadership training in business schools. Most graduate and undergraduate students take multiple courses in accounting but they may only attend one or two lectures on leadership. The result is we are sending young managers to the workplace with a belief that numbers are more important than people.

“Great leaders know better”

In accounting, employees are an expense but great leaders know better. They know people are an asset that represent the future results of a company. They see their team as an important resource that needs to be led properly to maximize performance. They understand their team will be at their best when they are loved, appreciated, respected, engaged, and acknowledged.

Where do you stand? Do you see employees as an expense or an asset? Have you worked for a manager who treated you like an expense or a problem that needed to be reduced? How did that feel? Have you worked for a leader that treated you like an important asset? What was that like? Let me know in the comment section below.

5 Keys to Setting the Tone as a New Leader

Whether you’re a first-time leader or an experienced manager in a new role, the first 100 days are critical. People are watching you closely which can be intimidating but it also can be used to your advantage.

“As a leader you set the tone for your entire team.” Colin Powell

Setting the tone is imperative during these early days. Here are five things you can do to let people know what type of leader you are.

Create a buzz. Do something to get everyone talking. Make it extreme so the message is clear. This is something I always do. In one manufacturing plant, I had the maintenance team paint over all the signs for the reserved parking spaces for managers, including mine. The message was simple, there is no special treatment for managers. We are in this together.

Set the example. Your minimum behaviors will be your team’s maximum performance. If you expect people to be on time, you need to be on time. If you expect managers to get out of their offices, you need to be out of your office. If you expect people to wear their safety equipment, you need to wear your safety equipment. It’s simple. Just as children follow a parent’s lead, your team will take cues from you.

“The reality is that the only way change comes is when you lead by example.” Anne Wojcicki

Signal your priorities. What’s important to you will be seen by your team. If you spend the first hour of the day on your computer and not with your team, they will see that. They will assume they are not as important as your e-mail. If you spend a meeting constantly looking at your phone, they will assume their presentation is not a priority for you.

“You are the leader and the troops will reflect your emotions.” Colin Powell

Establish the mood. We all know attitude is contagious. Regardless how you feel, you need to be upbeat and optimistic around your team. You still need to be empathetic when you have serious issues to deal with, but if you are consistently upbeat and in good spirits, the team will demonstrate the same. In the same respect, if you are quiet, unresponsive, angry, abrasive, sarcastic, or hidden, the life will get sucked out of your team.

“See and be seen. Get out of your office, walk the talk, make yourself visible and accessible.” Bill Marriott

Be open, available, and visible. Go to where your people are. Greet them every day. Show interest by actively listening and being open. Engage them on the subjects they care about. Your team will see you care and are interested in their thoughts and opinions. They will see you as open and willing to listen. They will be more likely to share their true feelings about the challenges they face.

Setting the tone early is critical. All eyes are on you as the new leader, so make it count. Create a buzz, set an example, show your priorities, establish the mood, and be present. These activities will let your team know what kind of leader you are and what your expectations are. This will help you down the line when you need their help to tackle the tough issues.

To learn more about how respected leaders set the tone, read Colin Powell’s leadership book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.

Let me know what you think in the comment section below.