The Power of Presence

Have you ever heard of an "absentee leader" or manager?

In this era of working remotely, having "commuting executives" who travel from city to city, and leadership that takes on added locations and broader areas, a growing trend has developed where employees don't see their leaders as much, or hardly at all.

While that may seem like every employee's dream - "the boss is never around!" - studies from leadership consultants and articles from Forbes and Fast Company show that companies whose leaders' presence is largely absent have the following challenges:

  • Employees have no clear direction towards goals
  • Staff receive no parameters for decision making, then either make erroneous decisions or no decisions at all
  • A vacuum replaces culture, vision, and motivation
  • Bosses tend to overcompensate for when they are there, requiring extra work during their time
  • Bosses micromanage through systems so ensure the work is done when they are away
  • Employees feel detached from the organization which then leads to disengagement
  • They don't feel they know what is going on in the organization

Companies whose work culture involves multiple locations, field sales, or working remotely from home offices are especially impacted by the lack of physical leadership presence due to their geographical layout. But every company, large and small, can be impacted by a lack of real presence in leadership.

Oh, yes, there is email to fill in the void. Unfortunately, email in lieu of a leader's presence descends to either white noise or a cold, mechanical relationship with one's boss.

People, your people, crave that personal presence in your leadership. They want that physical, emotional, and social connection that comes from knowing you're there ... even when you're not physically there.

So how can leaders overcome this and make their presence felt in the organization?

MBWA still works. Management by walking around may seem outmoded in today's world, but if done with the goal of connectivity to engage your people, it is still the most effective means to show presence and support. When you can personally interact, understand, and sense your team's needs and make them feel the same about you, the highest level of presence is felt and your people's needs are met on every level. Physical presence will always be the chief way to connect with your employees.

Make the most of your visits. A lot of times a leader's schedule at a location is packed with meetings, then they rush off to the next location for a jam packed schedule there as well. If you have very little time in each location, schedule open space in which to do nothing but connect with your people. If you need to do so, meet with them as a group. If you convey to your team that you take the time to seek them out and are there for them, they will never have the "Yeah the boss was here but we never saw her/him" resignation. Make every visit count as much as possible.

Your people are still only a phone call away. Remote field workers pose a greater challenge in that the boss will not visit your home office as a general rule. Regular phone calls to connect with people, get updates, find ways to help, and to see how they're doing build that relationship with them and go a long way in making your people feel part of your team.

Use technology. Skype, webcasts, conference calls, and other uses of apps and meeting technology exist for a reason - to keep teams and individuals connected and informed. Even more than that, they can rally your people around the week's goals, bring everyone to the same page, and energize your team by making them feel your presence. Don't be afraid to use these tools to let your people know you are involved.

Some email used properly can promote presence. While I agree in large part with David Burkus's conclusion of banning emails in his new book "Under New Management," if need be a quick email of praise and support can be a positive in those circumstances when a rapid acknowledgement is necessary. I don't encourage this as a practice, but when an employee opens an email or text that encourages them it gives them that extra lift in their job and can go quite a ways in making an impact for their day.

Don't discount off-hours contact. To think of reaching someone after the work day is over may seem like an encroachment of their personal time and space. But think about the impact when an employee knows you care for them and you take moments from your personal time to connect with them. A little sacrifice means a great deal when your people know that you give up some things to build them up.

Above all else ... make it personal and authentic. Your people are smart and will see through any insincerity in trying to be with them. The emotional impact of your presence is felt on many levels, and not just what you do or say. Be real in your purpose, which is to motivate and support your people. Center your presence around your people, not yourself.

When you can't physically be there for your people, those are probably the times when they need you the most. Reach out and connect to them at every opportunity. Make your presence known and felt throughout each day.

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