You cannot lead those you won’t see.2 min read

Meetings. They are an easy trap for leaders to fall into. Our daily calendars seem to be a highly compressed stack of commitments, often without any breaks to opportunities to be alone with our thoughts. Sometimes the day’s agenda may have multiple columns of overlapping commitments to fulfill. Is there any time blocked off in there for leading?

It’s also easy to forget that while we spend so much time meeting with other leaders, the people getting the real work of the business done are out there… getting the real work of the business done. Communicating with them through the proxy of middle management is, at best, a half measure.

The most effective leaders I’ve seen have something in common: they reserve substantial time investments in meeting and understanding the workers, the true value engine for their respective organizations. And this doesn’t mean summoning workers from their place of competency, where their work gets done, to your office. It means getting on your feet and walking down to where they work. It means taking time to observe what they do, how they do it, and asking important questions to give you the insight you need to understand how things actually work in your pipeline.

In Toyota, leaders are well known for walking the gemba. The gemba is a revered place. It’s out there the factory floor where value is built for Toyota customers. It’s the place where the work gets done. This is the ultimate source of truth. It’ll teach you far more than looking at yet another pivot table supplied by a program manager (who often doesn’t understand the work they are quantifying for you). Reports get massaged all the time to please you. The only way to understand for sure is to see it with your own eyes. Get out of your chair. Get to know your workers, what’s working well for them, and what’s in the way of their success.

Want to learn more about walking the gemba and other Lean leadership techniques? I can’t recommend highly enough reading The Toyota Kata by Mike Rother. And block off more time for your front line workers every day.