Don’t Lead from the Laptop

by Mark Hennes | Sep 04, 2017

Quote of Note
"Lead from the front."
- Audie Murphy, American Soldier

I was in the second month of our deployment to Kosovo, when my Command Sergeant Major said to me: “Hey, sir, you need to spend some time with the troops”. You see, as the commander of a 500 person organization, I had forgotten one of the basic tenets of leadership --- I had confused being busy with being a leader. I had been working extremely long hours going to meetings, working with my own staff on operational and logistical planning, coordinating those plans with our higher and adjacent organizations, planning training, and then going to more meetings.

What I had forgotten was that the people who would have to execute all of those plans needed to see the person that was leading them. While I was busy working with my direct reports (intermediate leaders), I was forgetting that the “do-ers” and the first line supervisors needed to see and hear from me, too. They needed to know that I knew their toils, struggles, and fears --- and shared them. They needed assurance from me that we had the right plans and procedures in place to ensure success. They needed to know that I had confidence in them --- and I think that they needed to have confidence in me, too.

In today’s world of instant and convenient communications, we tend to forget this personal level of leadership. It’s too easy to just forward an email to everyone with a quick note to “read this and do it” and think that we’ve done our leadership task. We think that our social media posts are having a big impact when we see lots of hearts and forwards. We think that our quarterly newsletter to parents is enough, and that the real problem is that they’re just not reading it. Don’t get me wrong, these are important … they’re just not enough.

As a leader, you need to be out of your office and visible to your team and community. Just hitting the send or post button doesn’t let them know that you’re interested in them and that you’re invested in helping them be successful. You need to let them know that you know that what you’re asking is hard, but it is necessary nonetheless. You need to be out checking things --- to see first-hand if that leak got fixed over the summer, if that technology order included the right cables this time, or if that book order has come in yet.

Oh, and when you go, take along one of your intermediate level leaders with you. While scholarship and study are important parts of leader development, nothing can take the place of watching a good leader in action. Tell him why you asked certain questions. Tell her what you were thinking when talking with that parent. Have him ask the questions in the next classroom, while you observe the interaction, and offer constructive feedback. In other words, lead from the front, not from the laptop.

Get It Done

  • Set aside time each day to get out of your office.
  • Don’t just go see your “favorites”. Set a goal to visit every space and office twice a year.
  • Take notes. Seeing any recurring problems that need addressing?
  • Focus on the individual, but also talk about the “we” of common goals, priorities and solutions.
  • Be positive. Be confident. Be inspirational.

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