Leadership is the art of doing things with, and through, other people. Leaders are, after all, those others want to follow. To this end, leadership rises and falls through the process of working well with other human beings.
Leaders, therefore, need to take intentional steps to connect with others they work with. This is more than “management by walking around,” because the aim is first to connect with those you lead. In fact, what I am about to share stretches your leadership muscles more than “management by walking around” because it forces you to use both your brain and your heart.
While the list that follows was created from my experiences walking the production floor at Hoffer Plastics, the lessons are applicable to non-manufacturing jobs. In fact, they are transferable to any lines of work involving human beings.
Here are five things I aim to do when walking the floor at our company:
I aim to connect:
This is stating the obvious, but the point of connecting is to actually connect. In practice, this means that I stop, look people in their eyes, and work to gain connection. Connection is putting to action the idea that the future of work is human. While I naturally have closer relationships with some people on our team, I always try to make eye contact, wave, and smile. I sometimes forget to smile because I am naturally serious, so I have to remember to do this!
I aim to listen:
A few weeks ago, one of our longest tenured team members pulled me aside to talk. After a few minutes listening to them, I heard pain in their voice. So, I asked, “how are you REALLY doing?” They then recounted about thirty minutes worth of pain (to keep them anonymous, I will leave it at that). I sat and listened. This does not make me a saint because I often rush these connections. But, I walked away believing that listening to this person was the most important thing I did all day.
I aim to observe:
I want to see what it is working on our production floor and what is not. That sounds a lot like “managing by walking around,” but there is a huge difference. The difference is that I want to observe with my own eyes what is working, and in some cases what is not working, for those on the floor. This is different than the stereotypical executive sitting at the conference table and making uninformed statements. Observation is curiosity in motion. It is an attempt to understand what you have already been told. Observation also uncovers what you are not being told.
I aim to understand:
There are times when I still don’t really get what is going on. Why, for example, are there plastics parts on the floor next to the same press in the same Plant day after day? Instead of making a judgement, I aim to understand by circling back with the people closest to the problem. Having already formed a connection with them, I am free to ask them questions. But it bears repeating, the goal is still human connection! Therefore, it is vital not to ask questions in an accusatory tone. Rather, seek to simply understand and help. Yes, help!
Finally, I aim to encourage:
This starts with pointing out when someone is doing something awesome. I have also discovered that a genuine thank you goes a long way. There is a team member in one of our Plants that has worked with us for over 50 years! She always has a word that is encouraging to me and over the years I have developed a close enough relationship with her to be able to speak a blessing to her. She is the saint. If I am telling the whole truth, seeing her on the floor and connecting with her, has done more for my soul during the last 18 months than I can probably describe here. Her example has led me, and inspired me, to be more encouraging to others.
Encouragement breeds more encouragement. Wouldn’t our society be better off with more of that right now? I know our workplace would. We live in a world that is dividing more and more along cultural and political lines. What if we used work to unite, rather than divide? What if we connected with those that we work with?
What if, like my grandfather, we had five hours worth of people willing to wait in line to pay their final respects because we connected, listened, observed, understood, and encouraged?
Let us be the someone who genuinely cares for those around us.
Let us be someone worth following.
Let us be like my friend that always has a positive word of encouragement.