Leaders must get out of their offices

published by Nashville Business Journal

If you want to truly lead, you can’t do it sitting on the sidelines. The most effective leaders I know seem to be in perpetual motion. But they certainly are not spinning in circles. These movers and shakers spend time wisely with key people, business functions and new projects. They know that the more business operations they interact with, the more knowledge they will gain. And it’s the most active, informed people who give themselves the best chance at becoming great leaders.  

When I think about intelligently active leaders, there’s one example that always comes to mind: a friend and manager of a large, multi-factory manufacturing company who always seems to be on the move. He starts each morning in the factory by reviewing current plant productivity with leadership teams. Then he walks the floor, talking to employees about workflow, new ideas, culture, family and just about any other topic that might impact productivity. By staying plugged in, he’s become a pro at identifying small issues before they become big problems. Hands-on mentoring is his special way of coaching supervisors to be effective in their roles. 

I, too, stayed active in my role at Tractor Supply. More than half of my working days were spent on the road in our stores with two or three associates. We listened, asked questions, demonstrated support and often waited on customers. We made visits to three or four stores a day and were in perpetual motion learning about people, products and processes. 

We also made full-day visits to our distribution centers, where we soaked up everything we could in a quest to provide the stores with the best possible support. On other occasions we spent several days at trade shows, studying new products and meeting current and potential suppliers. 

This constant motion—and knowledge gain—yielded the information we needed to make the best possible decisions and set the clearest direction for the organization. The overarching goal was to continually improve every aspect of the business.

Over the years, I also carved out time to do some serious leadership coaching. Here are some of the things I shared and continue to advocate about always staying on the move as leader.

  1. Heed this old adage: Inspect what you expect. You can’t easily inspect from behind a desk. Get up from the behind the computer and roam around—check on things and make sure jobs are being performed. 
  2. Talk to your people and discuss standards and expectations. Heck, strike up a conversation with anyone who is available. You’ll be amazed by not only what you can impart, but also what you can learn along the way. 
  3. Go to all departments and move out of your comfort zone. I gained so much by just walking and talking to people all over the building, from the mailroom and accounting to IT and HR. There is something to be learned everywhere.

Remember, staying plugged in is a key to leadership success. Keep moving so you can keep learning.

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