Get out of your office and see what it's like on the front line.
In case you missed it, here's a link to a great article by The Washington Post’s Alexandria Petri in which she describes how Hillary Clinton attempted to make a connection in a recent speech to the National Association of Automobile Dealers. She shared a story that since the last time she drove a car in 1996, the Secret Service hasn’t allowed her to get behind the wheel. The response, apparently, was confused crickets.
Petri doesn’t just pick on Hillary. She also shares stories about how Mitt Romney and John Kerry tried to connect with voters when they were running for president and missed the mark. Her larger point is that it’s a dangerous thing when you’re a leader who’s so far removed from the experience of every day people that you can’t connect.
As a leader you’ve got to stay connected to keep it real. Here are three tips on how to do that:
1. Work One Week a Year in a Front Line Job
One of the reasons that the reality show Undercover Boss was so popular a few years ago is that people enjoyed watching the big boss learn what it’s like to work on the front line. You don’t have to be on TV to do that. Starbucks is well known for making sure that their top execs spend one week a year working in a store. One of my clients in the hospitality industry took a week off from his leadership role in financial planning and analysis to work a week in housekeeping at a hotel in a major city. When I asked him what he learned, he told me the biggest thing was how exhausted he was after a week of stripping sheets and cleaning bathtubs. If you’re the boss, you likely have all kinds of opportunities to get out of your office and remind yourself of what it’s like on the front line. Why not make a commitment to spend at least a week there this year?
2. Leave Your Preconceptions in Your Office
When you go out on the front line, don’t look for data points that validate what you already think. Just experience it. Suspend judgment and leave your preconceptions in your office. Be open to learning something new.
3. Look and Listen More Than You Talk
Look for your opportunities to pitch in. Watch how the work actually gets done. Ask questions about how people do what they do and what they’ve learned along the way. Ask folks about their families, their hobbies, what they do after work. Be present and attentive when you do.
So, three simple tips for leaders who want to keep it real. What would you add to the list?