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Absentee leadership — a cause for concern?

I had a breakfast discussion last week with a friend of mine, a SVP of Sales for a major medical device company, and we discussed the growing practice of CEOs/Presidents  and other execs who live in a city other than where their company's headquarters is located and who commute to work.  His boss falls into this category and while my friend admires him and his stamina, what is typically a Tuesday - Thursday marathon work week when his CEO is in the office, the situation causes issues.  As an executive coach to CEOs and Business Unit heads across the US, I see more examples of "commuting executives" each year.  And as the practice gains acceptance at the top of the house, it seems to be more and more common at the VP level, too. We discussed a number of issues with this situation, which he referred to as "absentee leadership".  Some of the concerns addressed were:

  • The impact of the commute on the commuting executive and his/her effectiveness;
  • The impact of the commuting executive on the other members of the top team and their families, e.g.,  inordinately long work days, a 24 x 7 work ethic while the boss is at the office and in town, etc.
  • The impact of the absence of the leader when he/she is not in town and the absence of the MBWA and informal interactions that occur when all time together is "on agenda".
  • The impact on the climate of the workplace — the 24 x 7 workday, pacesetting climate issues;
  • The issue of "absentee leadership" when the top exec is not around;
  • The growing trend of commuting executives;
  • And last but not least, the impact on the commuting executive's family.

These are just a few of the issues we surfaced.  What are your thoughts about this "commuting executive" phenomenon?