Not often do we see presidents come to visit subordinates but on the long-running series, 24, it happens. President Allison Taylor went to see uber-agent Jack Bauer to tell him face to face that she wants to stop his investigation into a possible Russian-backed terrorist conspiracy in which Jack’s love interest was slain. A phone call would have sufficed, but President Taylor wanted to express her sympathy as well as her order for Jack to stand down.
It makes for good drama, but it is not all fiction. George H.W. Bush, as U.S. ambassador at the United Nations, was famous for dropping by personally to see fellow U.N. ambassadors.
Personally I know a manufacturing executive who insisted on holding staff meetings on the factory floor. His reasoning was two-fold: one, it was where the work was being done; two, he wanted his team to know conditions on the factory floor were like, in particular on hot summer days.
When a senior executive visits a subordinate in his or her place of work it sends a strong message. It demonstrates that the leader values the subordinate as a person. At the same time a leader’s time is valuable; she must ration it carefully so here are some suggestions for when to visit a subordinate.
To clear the air. People who work together have disagreements. While it often falls to subordinates to try and smooth things over, when the boss makes the first move and goes to the employee to do it, it conveys a sense of “we’re all in this together.”
To ensure clarity. Some issues require face to face interaction as a means of checking for understanding. The boss’s actual presence may encourage good dialogue that allows each party to ask questions. Many leaders also look for non‑verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language that indicate how the listener is receiving the information, either favorably or unfavorably.
To deliver bad news. No one ever likes to give bad news, so when a boss makes a point of going to the employee directly on his turf to give him unpleasant news about a project cancellation, a budget cut or a headcount reduction, it communicates that the cares about the people on his team.
To celebrate. Visits from the boss need not be reserved for tough times; good times are an occasion for celebration. When a boss visits the team at their workplace to congratulate them for a job well done, it’s a good thing. Employees remember it.
Let’s be honest there are bosses who make a habit of flying out of their offices and running down the hall to confront one of their direct reports. Their red faces and raised voices betray their indignation and what they suppose is their right to upbraid an underling in front of his peers. That is a tactic bullies use, not genuine leaders. Yes, you may lose your temper at something a subordinate does, but making the employee a whipping boy is not a sign of leadership; it is a sign of weakness, a lack of control.
Visiting with employees in their work space is a good habit that not only shows respect but also allows the leader the opportunity to get an up close and personal look at how the work is going. If a leader is dispensing praise, or even advice, it demonstrates to others that the boss is one who values people as people. The human touch is essential in establishing rapport and building trust.
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead.
(Amacom 2010). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website, www.johnbaldoni.com