I was leading a team one time that was in a facility located about 40 miles from where my office. I had noticed their performance numbers were lower than expected and had been slipping for some time. Productivity was low, profitability had dipped, and customer satisfaction scores were plummeting. I couldn’t figure it out.
When I talked to the leader, she had legitimate reasons – or at least I thought – that explained all of the slippage in performance. So when I was brought in to a senior leader’s office and he asked me what was going on, I proudly rattled off all of the reasons given to me, as he listened intently. Then he asked me a very simple question: How did I know all of these things? I explained that I had heard them directly from the leader at the facility. He looked at me, paused for a second, and said “get in your car, drive down there, and then come back and report to me what you see.”
I remember thinking when I got in the car the next day, “why am I wasting my time driving all the way down there?” It seemed pointless. I trust my team, they told me what is going on, end of story. I had neither the time nor the energy to spend taking a full day away from my office to go and find out what I already knew, or so I thought.
I thought wrong.
The minute I arrived at the facility, I noticed things. People were standing around talking on their phones, conversing about everything except work, there were people smoking outside in the parking lot. The place looked like it had been neglected for some time. I noticed the front office staff wasn’t very pleasant to people coming in. Nobody looked happy being there, including the staff. I was told the manager is never around. I had my answers to what was going on, it was the leadership on site.
I sheepishly returned to report my findings. I relayed the information back to my leader and he gave me some very sound advice, he said “manage with your eyes, not your ears.” He went on to tell me that you need to listen to your team, but when things are not going well, sometimes you need to see for yourself.
This is not to discount the importance of listening to what your team has to say. That is still important. But when something is broken, when the results are not there, you need to immerse yourself into the situation. You need to meet people face to face. You need to look those problems square in the eye. You need to see what is going on. That’s what good leaders do.
Whenever I find myself perplexed about a problem, or not understanding what someone is telling me, I remind myself of this lesson. I have revised his saying to this “manage with your eyes and your ears” because I feel great leaders are able to do both really well.
Listen to your team, but when it doesn’t add up, get out of the ivory tower every once in a while – you might be surprised at what you see.
My name is Mark Behl. My passion is leadership. I share ideas, not lectures. If you would like to share an idea with me, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you come back for future posts.