When I consult with churches, ministries, or nonprofits, I’m often surprised – even shocked – how often the leader is the last to know what’s going on in the organization. Theoretically, vision trickles down from the top, but in reality, a great deal comes from the bottom up, and when that happens, a leader who isn’t in touch with the team, becomes the least influential person in the organization. I recently read a quote from the late Andy Grove, former CEO of computer microchip maker Intel. He mentioned his surprising encounter with another company and the fact that the president of that company was the last to know about an important issue:
“When I reported this to the individuals who brought me the news, our IT manager said, “Well, that guy is always the last to know.” He, like most CEOs, is in the center of a fortified palace, and news from the outside has to percolate through layers of people from the periphery where the action is. . . . The lesson is, we all need to expose ourselves to the winds of change. We need to expose ourselves to our customers, both the ones who are staying with us as well as those that we may lose by sticking to the past. We need to expose ourselves to lower-level employees, who, when encouraged, will tell us a lot that we need to know. We must invite comments even from people whose job it is to constantly evaluate and critique us.”
My friend John Maxwell calls it “walking through the factory.” Every leader needs to be in touch with the entire organizational chart. It doesn’t mean he has to have lunch with the guys on the loading dock (although that could be an eye opening experience). But if he or she isn’t regularly making the rounds, chatting up the team, and checking with people up and down the chain, he or she is missing critical indicators of what’s happening.
Have you ever worked with a leader who stayed behind fortified walls. How did that impact the morale of the company?