Leading by Walking Around

This is the fourth post in my series on important aspects of leadership. I've previously discussed service, celebration and decision-making, this week I share my insights on what’s called “Leadership by Walking Around.”

In 1980 Management by Objectives (MBO) was the management phrase of the day. First defined by Peter Drucker in 1954, it was a process by which management and associates agreed on key objectives and then defined success by the associate’s ability to hit these metrics. Think of it as a performance measuring stick in which the associate reaches ever higher for the next notch on the stick, and the manager slowly, continually raises the bar.

However, when the book In Search of Excellence: Lessons From America’s Best-Run Companies was published in 1982, there was a shift to the management style called Management by Walking Around (MBWA). Seen much earlier in practice, MBWA was developed by Abraham Lincoln when he would informally wander through the camps of Union troops. MBWA relies less on the leadership efficiency touted by MBO and more on the personal interaction between manager and associate. By leaving the confines of the office and experiencing the day-to-day activities of the workplace, the manager can get a more complete picture of what’s actually happening and a more holistic understanding of the organization. Sam Walton was a master of this management style.

Pen and coffee-stained yellow notepad in hand, he would walk through his Walmart stores, distribution centers and even competitors’ businesses making notes and adjusting company strategy based on what he saw. When we as leaders  project a calm, steady, approachable confidence as we walk through our offices, associates take note. They see our demeanor as a reflection of the overall state of the company. If we rush through, head down, bent papers under our arm, associates will notice that as well, and this aura of anxiety will permeate our organization. People mirror those in authority, and as leaders it’s our responsibility to create within the company the culture and attitudes our businesses are built upon.

As modern leaders, we have access to a wealth of information and a number of technology tools that help us easily reach our audiences in real time through social media. However, we cannot neglect face-to-face, authentic human interaction. That’s not to say digital communication is the wrong platform; it’s just the starting point.

So compose your tweets, write your posts, build your persona and then get out of the office and let the complete “you” impact the company. Smile as you walk around. And during that time, don’t worry about leadership efficiency. Set aside communication platforms and strategies. Be authentic. Set an example of steadiness, approachability, and let engagement happen organically. Embrace the idea of leading by walking around and step out from behind your desk and connect with the people around you. Your leadership is never any greater than the next individual you interact with and what they take away from your actions.