Leaders – It’s Not About You

Leadership is simple. It’s about influencing a group of people to accomplish a goal. The problem is most managers forget about the people, the goal, and their role in influencing others. In other words, they do everything except lead. Maybe this is the reason why 70% of employees are disengaged at work. The vast majority of workers are disconnected because most managers are also unplugged.

Most bosses are just too busy to lead. They are focused on their own work. They are going to meetings, working on reports, replying to e-mails, or checking off items on their to-do lists. These managers are simply too busy to get out of their office and truly engage with their teams. As a result, most employees hardly ever see their managers and rarely interact with them.

If you’re a leader, your actions have a profound effect on the lives and careers of the people working for you. Once you are given the responsibility to lead a team it’s no longer just about you, it’s about them. Great leaders understand this and go out of their way to get to know every employee they are responsible for.

These leaders understand that every interaction with an employee is a chance to lead. They engage in deep, meaningful conversations with their employees and do more listening than talking. Great leaders are sincerely interested in what each employee has to say. These leaders know that engaging with their teams is a critical part of their job.

How about you? Are you engaging with your team? Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do you know your employees’ names, how long they’ve been with the company, and something about their lives outside of work?
  • Do you take time out of your daily schedule to visit your employees where they work?
  • Do you take time to thank employees, appreciate their contributions, and celebrate their successes?

Leaders – it’s not about you. When you are in charge, you have the watch. You are not only responsible for the results of the organization, but you are also responsible for your employees. Engaging with employees is an important part of your job, much more critical than answering a few e-mails.

Great leaders know that employees who are appreciated, respected, and supported will be more engaged and will always do more than expected.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

The Power of your Presence


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!

5 Lessons from the Shop Floor

Shop floor

“I know the last few days have been difficult for us all, but I want to be clear that nothing takes away from the huge amount of passion and expertise that I know exists in this business, or from what I believe we can build in the future.” E-mail to employees from Tesco CEO Dave Lewis on September 25, 2014.

Tesco, the multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer headquartered in the UK is in a major crisis. An accounting scandal that unearthed a $400 million gap in profits last month as well as declining sales from increased competition has newly named CEO Dave Lewis scrambling to turn the situation around. His answer? Send nearly 4,000 employees from Tesco’s headquarters, including senior executives, to work in his stores over the next three months. His program, called “Feet on the Floor,” is designed to get managers out of their “ivory towers” and into the stores to better understand their employees and customers.

This is a great example of a CEO who recognizes the value of gemba. Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.” In lean manufacturing terms, it means the shop floor, the place where real value-added activities take place, real problems occur, and real solutions are implemented. In other industries, gemba might be the call center, the warehouse, the construction site, or in the case of Tesco, the retail store.

One of the biggest mistakes companies make today is that leaders are too far removed from “the real place.” They are making decisions and trying to solve problems far away from where the actual value-added work is done. Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System, had an interesting way of teaching the value of gemba to his engineers. He would take them on the shop floor, draw a circle, and make them stand in it for two hours. When he returned, he would ask them what they had learned. If he wasn’t satisfied, they would have to repeat the process.

Taking a cue from Mr. Ohno, we ran a program in our company called “Fridays on the Floor.” On the first Friday of every month, the plant leadership team would spend four hours on the shop floor. Instead of observing, however, managers would “work” along side manufacturing employees in different departments. Managers then shared their observations to the rest of the leadership team. What we learned changed the view of our business completely.

1. There is a significant gap between management expectations and reality.Despite the investments and improvements we had made in the plant, we were shocked to still find inadequate tools and equipment as well as inefficient layouts. We learned the most important point of gemba is to face reality. There is no substitute for witnessing first-hand how your employees add value.

2. Employees are creative and innovative and care about the success of the company. Throughout the plant, we found examples of processes that had been improved by employees to be more efficient and effective. We learned that “kaizen,” the practice of continuous improvement, was alive and well with our workforce. We only needed to tap into that talent to accelerate the process.

3. There is a rich and useful world of “tribal knowledge” to be discovered. The collective wisdom we found on the shop floor was incredible. Employees knew which procedures, work instructions, and training tools were good and ones that were not. They knew when equipment needed service, when tooling needed to be changed, and when there was a potential for a quality problem. Turning “tribal knowledge” into standard work and best practices became another opportunity for us to speed up our continuous improvement efforts.

4. Barriers are removed when management and employees work together. We found that by getting out on the shop floor and working with employees, they saw us differently. They respected us for being willing to get dirty and see the production line from their perspective. In turn, we respected them for their ability to produce high quality products with less than ideal tools, equipment, and procedures. The gap between “us” and “them” closed significantly as a result of this program. This led to increased trust and better communication.

5. Time on the floor makes you a better decision maker. The more time we spent on the shop floor, the better informed our decision-making became. We developed a better understanding of the full capabilities and limitations of our organization. We were also exposed to more challenges and opportunities for improvement. The time spent with shop employees also made us aware of the untapped knowledge we had in the organization.

Time will tell if Dave Lewis’ plan to get his leadership team exposed to gemba will work. There is no doubt they will be exposed to direct and real feedback from employees and customers. Each leader will develop a richer understanding of the problems that are affecting Tesco and the opportunities for improvement. The barriers between the leaders and store employees will be removed and Tesco’s management team will be better equipped to make critical decisions for the future of their business.