Case notes: invisible leadership
I was working with a leadership team who wanted to increase their impact, inject a sense of purposeful urgency into the business and finally get to grips with some long-standing business issues. To do this, they needed to improve their team dynamics very significantly.
Their recently appointed CEO was extremely keen on the leadership team being visible. Unfortunately, they had received some very powerful feedback from people on the ground that they had become almost the reverse.
They decided to do something about it. They ‘contracted’ with each other and with the CEO that they would each spend at least one day per week in the business, at one or more offices or sites, and meet people informally. This would be their opportunity to get feedback on the most pressing business issues facing people on the ground, and on how the leadership team was perceived. Crucially, it was also their opportunity to communicate the company’s transformation journey in real time, and in person.
Around six months after this contract was agreed, I was talking a manager who reported to a member of the leadership team. ‘Well, he only comes here once in a blue moon. And when he does, he walks as fast as he can to his office with eyes fixed on the floor. It’s like he’s afraid he might have to talk to someone.”
This unwillingness to engage with people undid a lot of the good work done by the leadership team in making the case for change. Of course, there were the typical mitigating circumstances – directors had huge workloads and multiple conflicting priorities etc. But a manifest dislike or fear of having to engage with ‘ordinary’ people on the part of one or two directors was clearly discerned by their direct reports. For those people, this undermined the credibility of all the key transformation messages.