On the drive home from the airport recently I was listening to an interview with a well-known comedian, writer, and actor. He was asked how success had changed his work approach over the years.
He said, “Success insulates you. Early on as a comedian you become a trained observer of humans and situations around you. You notice things and they prompt a joke or a story or a film. After you’re successful, you can’t do that as easily anymore. To be an effective observer, you have to be part of the background. When someone recognizes you, you’re no longer part of the background.”
He sighed. “I miss that. I still observe, but it’s harder for me today.”
Success insulates leaders, too. Great bosses are keen observers of the human condition. They keep their fingers on the pulse of how safe and inspiring their work environment is, day to day. The only way to do that is to proactively observe and courageously align their organization’s culture.
Leaders Must Immerse Themselves in Their Corporate Culture
Leaders make plans, decisions, and actions based upon what they believe – about the market, their customers, their employees. Too often the information they receive is only a portion of the “whole story;” if they rely too heavily on that narrow perspective, they make mistakes (sometimes expensive ones).
Here’s an example of proactive observation: A plant manager I work with recently took five key players to visit a customer’s plant. The two-day visit helped my client’s team learn how to tweak systems (and even packaging) to make their customer’s job easier. Those key players came back with tactical plans to fix those issues.
Leaders need to be equally proactive in learning what it’s like to get work done in their own organization’s work environment. Just like the plant manager took key staff to visit a customer, leaders need to regularly push themselves away from their keyboards and “hang out” in their workplace. They need to “observe by wandering around,” asking what’s working (and what’s not).
They will face the same issue the comedian reported: leaders are well-known so they can’t always observe “from the background.” However, observing on a regular basis will reduce staff awareness of the leader’s presence. Hang out and observe a lot.
Be Courageous In Addressing Mis-Aligned Behaviors
Over time, this proactive observation will reveal things that get in the way of employee performance and passion. Lousy policies and systems will come up. Supervisors who yell or don’t listen will be apparent (as will those who do!). The quality of relationships between & among bosses & team members will be obvious.
Once leaders become aware of these issues, they must demonstrate the courage to fix them. It is MUCH easier to address issues a leader knows about. The trick is to get leaders to regularly immerse themselves in their current corporate culture, tweak things that aren’t working, and celebrate the things that are working.
What ways do you or your leaders “keep fingers on the pulse” your organization’s corporate culture? What’s the impact of leaders NOT paying attention to the work environment? Tell us in the comments section below.
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