Covid-19 Disclaimer: Although more difficult to "walk the halls" in person during this pandemic, the basics outlined in this post still apply and may even be more important today. At the end, I will address some Covid adjustments to this leadership strategy.
The best leaders see and hear what is happening in their sphere of control with their own eyes. Summarized information provided to you is still very useful, but is likely not enough for you to truly understand what is happening in your business.
So why is this type of reporting not sufficient for a business leader to make the best informed decisions?
Summarized reporting is often several layers removed from the source of the data being presented. Or, put another way, is several layers removed from any problems or variances highlighted by the report. If there is anything lean thinking teaches, it is go to the root or source of the problem to understand how to address any issues.
Summarized reporting often includes the report writer's own bias. While you want to understand your direct report's perspective on the data and any potential variances, you also should seek to understand the data yourself.
Standardized reports can sometimes mask the root cause of a problem or variance.
Taking only the information given to you by your direct reports doesn't allow you to correctly evaluate the performance of those direct reports. I hate the colloquialism, but "trust but verify" is accurate in describing the need for leaders to see with their own eyes how their business is operating.
This style of leadership can become very asynchronous, giving you very little feedback on the decisions you are making using only second or third-hand information.
You may be thinking, "this is all great, but in today's business world, schedules are tighter than ever. How do I as a business leader make this a part of my leadership strategy?" My answer would be, how can you not? Your success may depend on this "being present" leadership strategy. Here are a few tips on how to integrate this into your routine.
Schedule time on your calendar to get up from your desk and tour your department or business. It only takes 10-15 minutes a couple of times a day. For your own health and well being, you should be walking about for that amount of time each day anyway.
Instead of meeting with your direct reports in your office, conduct a walking meeting through their area of responsibility.
Make it a point to talk with individual contributors in each area. Get to know them and let them know you. It will make it more comfortable for them to surface opportunities for improvement and successes to you when they see you.
Ask individual contributors about metric variances in their area and what they think could be the cause.
Use the lean daily leadership methodology utilizing visual management tools which will get you and your leadership team into each area of the business each day.
The bottom line is that if you don't seek to verify the information you are given, you will likely make poor decisions. But there is another reason for this "being present" leadership strategy. You become an approachable leader by regularly visiting with your team. You also demonstrate your caring for them and the value you place on their opinions. So in addition to making better decisions, you are a better leader using this strategy.
To drive home this point to myself, I've use the following statement as a reminder - "If you don't leave your office, you may start to believe your own BS!" Go out and be present and seek to know your business better!
Covid-19 Addendum: With Covid-19 restrictions on in-person contact, it has become more challenging than ever to see with our own eyes how the business is performing. It makes speaking with your team regularly all the more important, however. I suggest "skip level" or department level virtual meetings to allow those team members to voice opinions on subjects of importance to you as a leader. Also, don't be afraid to directly contact a team member involved in a specific process or function where you'd like to verify information or learn more about a problem or variance. Being purposeful in this type of communication is so important during these socially distanced times.