Servant Leaders Put On the Miles

I have been doing some informal surveys with readers about the effectiveness of my blogs. I constantly want to be sure that I am providing value, and am looking to improve the content and the conversation around the information provided.

low section view of three people walking

A consistent feedback theme has been – “Mark, please come down from the 50,000 foot level and provide specific actionable practices that led to your success as a leader”!

So I thought I would address a specific question that I received.

 “Describe the single most important aspect of your leadership that drove success within your area of responsibility” 

That is a great question and one that I did not have to think too long about. The answer is:

Walk the Floor!

I started this practice since my very first job out of college and have always held it to be critical to my success as a leader. It derives from my firm belief and value of mutual respect and trust. I absolutely believe that every single person has immense value, and no one is any better than anyone else, regardless of their title or role within an organization.

The keys for me in making this a successful and impactful practice included:

  • Make it a daily routine – I set aside 1 hour every morning and 1 hour every afternoon to get out and talk to people in all areas of the organization.
  • Learn everyone’s name – This won’t happen in the first week on the job, particularly if you have 100’s or 1000’s of employees, but with consistent effort it will happen. I have seen leaders use flash cards with every person’s picture on the front and names on the back and then have their spouse quiz them every night until they knew 100% of their employees by name.
  • Don’t get comfortable by always talking with the same people – This is an easy trap to fall into. Some people will be easy to connect with, others more challenging. You need to make a point to connect with everyone!
  • Ask discovery questions – The more you know about individuals the better job you can do in asking appropriate questions that truly indicate your interest in them.
  • Thank them for their insights – Everyone likes to be appreciated. Use this time to build self-esteem and encourage people.

Advantages and outcomes of “Walking the Floor”:

  • People recognize that their leader is a real person who truly cares about their well-being.
  • Creates an opportunity for positive recognition and encouragement.
  • People are energized by discussions with their leader and will respond with their best.
  • An atmosphere of “No Fear” will be cultivated as people see it is safe and expected to let their leader know what is on their mind, and their ideas are acted upon.
  • Sets an example for other leaders to be doing the same, and builds a culture of mutual respect and trust throughout the organization.
  • As the leader you will be far more informed of what is truly going on in the organization.
  • It is good exercise!

What methods have you used to truly stay in touch with the people in your organization?

Mark Deterding

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. Matthew 14:25

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Mary Jo Baarsch

    Absolutely agree, Mark! As a new leader in an organization, it is the first and most helpful thing that anyone can do build trust and respect.

    • Mark Deterding

      Right on Mary! And it’s the best thing for leaders to continue to do throughout their tenure with the company. I have found that there is nothing more important than staying connected with the team to maintain that trust and respect.

  • You definitely have more opportunity to understand the pulse and vibe of any organization when you’re out “walking the floor” and avoid the danger of appearing “aloof” or “too good”.

    • Mark Deterding

      Amen David!

  • Love this and agree with this whole heartedly. Another idea that has served me well over the years is to get the list of everyone’s birthdays and anniversaries so I can personally congratulate them on their special day. I still do this for all the family I worked alongside at Banta/RRD even though it’s been years since I’ve worked there.

    Thanks, Mark for continuing to lead and inspire.

    • Mark Deterding

      John, so great to hear from you! Personalized Birthday and Anniversary Cards mean so much to people. That is just awesome that you still take the time to send them to people from the Banta years! Fabulous!

      Thank you for the model of leadership as well John!