‘Do you know who Dave is?’ – I said
The reply ‘Who’s Dave?’
That was part of my conversation a few years ago during my time as a management consultant. I was working with a business to help them identify areas for improvement. As part of our initial engagement we would spend time with people in the work, trying to understand what it feels like to work within the company, department, and team.
One of the many things I try to understand is how visible the leaders are in the area and how people feel about their leaders. Dave was the senior leader for this particular area and no, this person didn’t know who Dave was. Maybe this was because Dave was 2 layers up in the hierarchy and so it wasn’t Dave’s job to be known to the people at the lower levels?
I asked others. One or two knew who Dave was but would not be able to pick him out of a line up. One person had actually met him and instantly became the focus of questions about Dave.
When I’d spent some time with people to understand more about them and their world I found myself back in a conversation with Dave, who had triggered this whole process in the first place and I walked him through some of the things I had heard, seen and felt on my rounds.
‘A number of people aren’t really sure who their leaders are beyond their immediate manager, particularly at your level’ – I told him.
‘That can’t be right. I walk through that office at least once a week. I’ve even worked from there once or twice’ – was Dave’s response.
‘What do you think the upshot of them not knowing who their leaders are is? – My question
‘Of course they need to know who I am. I am not sure why they said that to you. I’ll speak to my direct reports to get their views on this tomorrow’ – Dave’s next step
We will stop this one here.
One principle I will always champion in great leaders is their ability to find the time to be known and present to their people. What do I mean by known and present? They have devoted an amount of time, however big or small to every individual they are responsible for leading to show that they matter. They have spent time in the work to understand being in their peoples shoes so that they can be better leaders. This doesn’t mean they had a 121 with hundreds of people. It could have been a coffee machine conversation, an appearance in a huddle, listening to one phone call. All things that may seem small, but for their team members would be huge.
Unfortunately, Dave didn’t quite grasp this at the outset. His time was too precious as he needed to be in meeting after meeting, all of which were important. But whilst unknowingly neglecting his people he was in fact undermining his own department performance through the lack of visible leadership and the buy in to the bigger goal that this helps bring.
So, if you are a leader, ask yourself this….
are you spending enough time in the work understanding your people?
Are you known and present?
Can you actually be a leader if your people don’t really know who you are?
Something to remember here, Dave is not the only one. One of the most difficult things as a leader is to hold the mirror up and challenge yourself to be a better leader. When I was Dave, I probably spent most of my time away from my team and with hindsight I would have changed this.
The example I have articulated about Dave was pre COVID and in a physical world where we are located with our teams, now currently a lot of us are not located with our teams and we use this as a reason for us not doing it..
But did you do it enough before? And, although we are further apart in location currently how can we connect more and be more known and present?
If this resonates with you lets continue the conversation