It is not unusual when a new leader arrives to sequester him in a conference room with the key senior staff and bombard him with hours of PowerPoint presentations to make sure he has a clear picture of the situation. If the situation is good, the focus is on who gets the credit (the CEO or senior pastor). If the situation is bad, the focus can be on who (China or the worship leader) or what (the economy) should be blamed. The entire view of things is from the perspective of and through the filters of the senior staff who, by the way, have the most to gain and the most to lose.
That was the plan in the mid-90’s when I arrived as the new leader of a small west coast aerospace machining company. Our owners wanted to merge it with our Nashville operation because it was losing money and customers. Machined parts for a Boeing 777 (or any other Boeing or Airbus airplane) are manufactured to tolerances within a few hundredths of an inch in high-tech, clean, organized and efficient facilities. At least they are supposed to be. After handshakes and a cup of coffee, the executive team was ready with the PowerPoint. However, I scuttled that plan with “let’s take a walk first.” After more than thirty years in the aerospace business, I knew I could learn a lot just by walking around.
We exited the conference room, put on safety glasses, then stepped outside. It looked more like the Sanford and Son junkyard (a 1970’s hit TV comedy starring Redd Foxx; check it out on tvland.com) than an aerospace facility. The first thing I saw was a couple of acres of rusting truck doors, old machines, barrels of who knows what, obsolete tools and piles of scrapped parts. Inside the buildings, the aisles were so cluttered with half-finished parts that it was hard to walk from one machine to the next. The paperwork for each job was scattered and oil stained. I fully expected Redd Foxx to rush up at any minute and fake a heart attack (his tactic on the TV show when things were going bad). Because I saw it with my own eyes, I knew it was going to take a total change in management and months of hard work to fix it. I learned more in a thirty minute walk-around than I would have in eight hours of presentations.
As a leader, you need unfiltered information and clear perspective. You won’t always get it in a PowerPoint presentation. Get out of your office and take a walk with your eyes open and your ears unplugged. A little dirt on your shirt won’t hurt you.
© Copyright 2011 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company
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"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner
Good stuff, Dick. It seems that a leader has to intentionally look past the information that’s provided because the leader will always be the last to know–unless he constantly asks questions and looks for things unspoken.
I am not saying ignore information, but verify it, and one of the best ways to do that is “get out of the office and talk to the troops.”