Don’t be a missing-in-action CEO

Visible leadership is necessary to build trust and to motivate and inspire people to achieve their full potential

The CEO of a high-growth company had an intense and increasing travel schedule. Over the past six months he had spent very little time with his executive team, and he had virtually no visibility with his employees.

Believing his absence was unavoidable and, ultimately, good for the organization, he was stunned when one of his direct reports confronted him.

He was accused of being missing in action and told his absence was hurting the company.

In fact, employee engagement scores had declined significantly since last year, which was apparent to everyone who was in the office, but not to the wayward CEO.

What’s more, it was evident that the company was threatened with the loss of key talent if the CEO didn’t quickly reconnect with his team.

CEO mistake

The CEO was convinced that his role was to be the face of the organization and that he needed to dedicate 100% of his time to growing the business.

He also knew he had very talented people both on his team and throughout the company, and he believed the business could manage perfectly well day-to-day while he was away.

As he had once stated to a member of executive group, “I don’t need to babysit our team and employees. That’s not my job.”

CEO solution

CEOs can’t be leaders in absentia. Visible leadership is necessary to build trust and to motivate and inspire people to achieve their full potential and deliver results.

Great leaders take the time to connect with people.

Many come by those skills naturally, but others need to have a managed visibility strategy in place.

In this case, the CEO recognized that he had to make some dramatic changes before things got any worse.

First, he clearly had to cut back on his travel and rearrange his priorities. He committed to speaking with his direct reports in person or by phone for 30 minutes a week.

Every other week, he set aside time to walk around the office and chat with employees.

He focused on asking them about work they were doing and dedicated himself to taking an interest in how their individual contributions were making a difference to the company.

He also began to post blogs to the company intranet, musing on daily or weekly insights related to various aspects of the business, and he explored the use of other social media tools.

He scheduled monthly one-hour coffee talks with groups of 10 to 15 employees.

And every quarter he rolled up his sleeves and worked alongside employees at all levels throughout the organization to interact with people more closely.

Lastly, he led monthly and quarterly business updates for all employees, either in person or via videoconference.

It was a dramatic shift with dramatic results from a leader who showed tremendous courage and wasn’t afraid to fix what was wrong in his approach. •

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