The Natural Habitat of an Effective Leader

The Traditional Leader’s Habitat

Natural work habitat to many healthcare C-Suite leaders is found in an administrative building, office wing, or separate hall. Four tastefully decorated walls of an office or an executive suite conference, board, or meeting room.  Executives enter their office early and often spend time in back-to-back meetings scheduled by trusting executive assistants that work hard to support their leader and keep his or her many plates in the air all the time.

A Change of Environment

It can even become a foreign experience for the Chief Executive or other senior leaders to spend time outside the corporate walls of an organization’s headquarters. Whether we are aware of it or not, leading from that distance fosters a mindset among employees who may refer to the decision of the “powers to be” or “ivory tower” as the place that all the decision are made and “sent down” to them. Being led from a distance is alienating, and creates static in the communication and culture between the “leaders” and “everyone else.”

The Undercover Boss

If you have ever seen the popular TV show Undercover Boss, you’ve seen the shock that comes from rapidly closing that distance, inserting the “boss” right into the employee’s “work habitat.” I think the show has been so successful because it illustrates the reality of  the distance in relationships between employees and the top leaders in all types of organizations. You see it everywhere. It’s startling, yet familiar because we often see it play out in our own organizations.

Why Leave the Traditional Leader’s Environment

On Undercover Boss, the executive or business owner is wanting to improve the company’s product or service. To obtain unfiltered, fresh information, he or she decides to go undercover as a front-line employee. In that role the quality of the work becomes transparent, and problems (and often solutions) start to emerge. The compounding impact is that as the “boss” gets to know the employees they work with, they get a broader snapshot of lives of other employees that work for the company. It’s also a stretching experience, as the “boss” feels awkward in the new environment, or struggles to adjust to the work the job requires.

Beyond Specialization & Division of Labor

Now obviously, it is understandable that strengths vary. An executive that is detailing a car, preparing food, or assisting patients being transported to surgery would not be as efficient as someone that is trained to do the task regularly. However, the struggle to “step into the shoes” of that employee does more to close the distance between the leader and the team. The distance between the corporate leadership and the people doing the work is an abyss that is worth the time to bridge, and the understanding born of working in the other “habitat” is educational and effective.

You Don’t Have to Go Undercover

If our natural habitat as leaders is always in a corporate office and not in the places that employees are working, then we miss crucial insights and lessons about what is best for the organization and it workers. While going “undercover” isn’t necessary, making time in the schedule to shadow and visit your employee’s “habitats” can yield as much – or more – about what is going on. The insights and leadership capital gained quickly shows that it isn’t wasted time – time lost from an already busy schedule. Instead, it is the time you are investing to improvement your leadership, and discover the innovations that will elevate your organisation’s success.

Leadership by Walk Around

LBWA or Leadership by Walk Around is a practice that  I encourages leaders to do. Realizing how busy executives are, I suggest that the leaders ask their Executive Assistants to make time routinely on their schedule to walk in their their employees footsteps and build some relationships with their staff. Discussing the leaders’ experiences in C-Suite meetings can be enlightening and will create opportunities for new improvements for the company and employees.

Get Comfortable

The goal is that executives are just as comfortable in the different environments or habitats of their organization as their own office space. I encourage all executives to take 30 minutes up to several hours to connect to their organization and their employees. Find your place in their work habitat. Learn the things you cannot learn from your board room or corporate headquarters. It will close the distance to improve your leadership, and fuel your own innovation.

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