It’s highly improbable that anyone reading this came out of school and started at the ‘top’ as a president or CEO. We all had to pay our dues and while doing so, had the opportunity to work with some of the most dedicated and hardworking people we’ll ever know.
Without our task oriented colleagues, the ‘doers,’ our days would be pretty short. They run the machines, they make the calls, they enter the data, they pack, they load they drive the vehicles…they add the value. Understated…they create the accounts receivables!
Whenever in leadership positions, I work hard to earn the trust and respect of the folks adding the value. Perhaps a legacy of my generation or my own work experience, it just happens to be that important to me. Stay in touch…I’ve learned a lot by doing so.
Habits formed over the years:
• Interact with humility and transparency…no airs. I want to know their concerns and have watched others fail to do so because they led with their authority.
• In addition to talking one on one, add formats that include five or six employees. ‘Round tables’ with no agenda can be very enlightening.
• As much as you can, keep it ‘lite.’ To be able to laugh and learn from little mistakes makes the teachable moments more meaningful and memorable.
• Where corrective action may be required, suggest solutions instead of prescribing them. There is much dignity in asking others for their opinion.
• Try to remember something personal about each person with whom you talk. Recalling those things the next time you chat means everything…you listen and, you care!
• Be patient and time tolerant; if you’re going to ‘work the floor,’ engage fully and don’t cut a conversation short because of another priority.
• Follow up! No quicker way to lose credibility than to promise to get an answer or more information regarding an issue and then fail to deliver.
• Don’t become a substitute for direct supervision; do use your experiences to help that function become even more effective.
Over the years I puzzled why I seemed to be more approachable by the ‘doers’ in an organization than by those who were directly accountable to me. I finally figured that out and it had everything to do with my demeanor. My sole purpose in staying connected with the folks that make things happen every day is to ensure that their concerns are being addressed, that they have what they need to do their job, that their questions are being answered and that their voices are being heard. I try to approach that responsibility as a peer.
In a past executive role I would frequently spend a few minutes talking with ‘Ray’ before I went home at night. Ray had been with the company for years; he worked facility maintenance on the night shift and started around 5 pm. A Marine, he had served a number of tours in Vietnam and been in life and death combat many times though he never spoke much of those years. We would chat about his day, my day, how the business was doing, what his eyes saw and more. When his health became impaired, making his commute more difficult, Ray resigned to take a job five minutes from his home. On his last night of work he took a piece of scrap paper from my waste basket and wrote a note to me leaving it face down on my desk. I read it the next morning: “I would follow you anywhere, Semper Fi.”
To this day I am both honored and humbled by Ray’s words; I had earned his trust and respect and was even more inspired to remain connected with the doers in my life.