In March 1982, Atlantic Magazine published an important article titled Broken Windows which documented the results of a program which took “police officers out of their patrol cars” and assigned them to “walking beats” in some New Jersey inner-city neighborhoods. The intent of the program was to determine the impact of foot patrols on crime. Interestingly, the results showed that the foot patrols had little impact on reducing the measured crime rates (robbery, etc.). However, there were two significant benefits:
#1 the residents believed that crime had been reduced and felt more secure and free to walk around and live in the neighborhood, and had a favorable attitude about the police;
#2 the foot patrol officers had “higher morale, greater job satisfaction, and a more favorable attitude” about the residents of the neighborhood.
As I read this article, I immediately thought of MBWA—Management By Walking Around—the Hewlett-Packard leadership mantra validated in the Tom Peters/Bob Waterman 1982 bestselling book, In Search Of Excellence. Wikipedia describes MBWA this way: “a style of…management which involves managers wandering around, in an unstructured manner, through the workplace(s), at random….The emphasis is on the word “wandering” as an impromptu movement within a workplace….as compared to remaining in a specific office area and waiting for employees, or the delivery of status reports, to arrive there, as events warrant in the workplace.”
In other words, MBWA is leaders on foot patrol and if you do it, you will get the same benefits as the police did:
#1 employees will have higher morale, feel more secure and free to talk, and have a more favorable attitude about you as the leader;
#2 you will have higher morale and will have a more favorable attitude about your employees.
And, since they will more freely talk, you will hear the truth more often than you will if you stay camped out in your office all the time.
If you haven’t thought about and practiced “leadership by foot patrol” in a while, why don’t you give it a go to see what happens? I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Thanks to Wally Bock at threestarleadership.com for pointing me to the Broken Windows article. Wally’s blog is the best out there for pointing to current and relevant leadership articles/books/blogs/etc. See  below to sign up.
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© Copyright 2012 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner