Leadership By Walking Around
I recently wrote an article about establishing good meeting practices in the workplace where I mentioned a principle known as “Leadership By Walking Around.” It’s a form of servant leadership, and I first saw it in action at my first Coast Guard unit, a nearly 400ft ship focused on combating cocaine smuggling. The mission was stressful and required months away from home at a time. Leadership by walking around was the way our commanding officer took charge of his ship, kept his crew motivated, and maintained a pulse on how well his crew was coping with the stress of life in the Coast Guard.
With a workload and level of responsibility that would keep the majority of managers locked in their offices, why was it so vital for him to spend so much time talking to the crew? He understood that by getting to know the ship’s crew on a personal level he was creating a safe environment that promoted creativity, engagement, and ownership. It also forced middle management to talk to their teams more openly - what a nightmare it would be for your boss to know something about your team that you didn’t!
People didn’t just want to work for him; they wanted to give him their very best. In the event he had to make a tough decision, he was always given the benefit of the doubt. Everyone knew he had their best interest in mind and he was considered fair.
As a team manager, you should take the time to do the same thing. Do not segregate yourself from your team; learn not just their names but their lives. Are they married, do they have kids, where are they from, what do they picture their life will be like in ten years, how can you help them get there? Take them to get coffee, or enjoy a relaxed lunch with them. Talk about where they'd like to travel, people they’d like to meet, what their kid wants to do for their birthday, how they met their significant other.
Recognizing that people have needs beyond those fulfilled in the workplace is key to demonstrating your respect for them, and it promotes a culture of trust, positivity, and ownership. It will make harder conversations easier, it will make especially stressful stretches of work more bearable, and it will improve feedback, cohesion, and productivity.