Leadership: It Doesn't Happen Behind Your Desk

I was reflecting the other day on where leadership happens. Where does inspiration take place?  Where is the example seen?  Where does the coaching with a pat on the back transpire?  Have you ever thought about that before?  Where has your true leading or influencing happened with those people at work, those in your home or those you just come into contact with?  

Hadrian, the 14th emperor of Rome, was known as the third of five emperors who ruled justly.  From 117 -138 A.D., he was determined to consolidate the borders of the Roman Empire. In 122A.D., Hadrian began building a wall around his empire.  The well known part of the wall in northern England that kept out the "barbarians" from the north can still be seen today and is pictured at the top of this post.  In the map below, the Roman Empire at this time covered a vast amount of territory , but that did not keep Hadrian in Rome.  He was actually known for not being in Rome.  He continually traveled around his empire visiting his people and soldiers in their environment.  This helped him continually understand his people and what situations were happening so that he could lead them well.      

As I thought about Hadrian and my own experiences over the years, almost none of my truly influential leading has taken place in my office or from behind my desk. Some minor leading takes place during one-on-one's and through my communication via email or phone, but not the significant times of true influence. These have taken place outside of my office, like when I have discussions with my people in their offices looking over their shoulder at something they want to show me, or when I am coaching my son's baseball team and I have a discussion after a hard decision was made at home plate.  I think of the rock climbing adventures with my son and the amazing times of building trust and deepening our relationship, or the lifetime decision-making conversations that I have with my daughter in her dorm room. 

In an article called, "What Great Managers Do" (HBR), Marcus Buckingham wrote, 

It takes time and effort to gain a full appreciation of an employee's strengths and weaknesses.  The great manager spends a good deal of time outside the office walking around, watching each person's reactions to events, listening, and taking mental notes about what each individual is drawn to and what each person struggles with.  There's no substitute for this kind of observation, but you can obtain a lot of information about a person by asking a few simple, open-ended questions and listening carefully to the answers.

I guess what I have determined through my experience, research and reflection is that it is critically important that we as leaders get out from behind our desks and better understand those people that we have an opportunity to leadI believe we need to get outside of our homes with our wives or husbands or with our kids in a different environment, in their environment.  It is in these moments of getting outside of these places that we truly begin to understand them, to understand the intrinsic challenges they are having and, most importantly, how we can help lead them.   

Tom Peters, in a short video below, shares a story about Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, intentionally makes an effort to do this while leading a global business.  If the CEO of huge business like this can do it, then how can you say that you don't have time.  I challenge you to try to make an effort to get up out of your chair and leave your office to spend time with those you lead.  I guarantee that they will gain a huge appreciation that they have a leader that really cares about them,  and that you will gain incredible insights that will help you make better and more effective decisions.