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Hang Out the Lifelines

Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic and best-selling author, has written that the only people CEOs can relate to are fellow CEOs. It may be true, but it’s a crying shame. The CEO need not be buddy-buddy with everyone or anyone, but he or she needs to maintain open and honest relations with people on the team, from every level of the organization.

Although not all of us will be CEOs, the need to stay connected with people as people begins in the management process. Managers cannot always be chums with their direct reports, but they can and should maintain open channels of communications. Yes, you’ve heard that before, but what does it mean? Put bluntly, it means you need and want people on your team who will tell you the truth even when it hurts.

Here are some ways to cultivate “the pain.”

Don’t settle for happy talk. One of the black arts of office politics is saying what the boss wants to hear. It’s human nature to please, but it’s not a good way to run a business. If you are not telling the truth, or more likely shading it, you are not only disingenuous, you are disrespectful. Your actions say that you do not trust the boss. Often, this distrust arises because the boss cannot be trusted. Straight talk is the only talk.

Visit people in their offices. Employees are used to coming to your office. Why don’t you visit their place of work? An executive with whom I worked used to hold staff meetings on the factory floor, even in the dog days of summer, because he wanted to be where the work was. His presence demonstrated that he was a team player. It was also an opportunity to see what was happening on the factory floor.

Hang out. Stanley Bing, the straight-talking columnist in Fortune, once wrote about CEOs he know whose feet had never touched anything but carpet during their leadership tenure. Bing was referring to the “big guts,” willful arrogance, and self-distancing. I think anyone who has worked in a large organization can sympathize. Better to see your leaders in the cafeteria, in the hallway, or at company gatherings.

Share stories. One of the best ways to connect with people is through stories or narratives that engage interest. Good ones concern what people are doing and how they have overcome adversity. Work is not always easy, and people make mistakes. When you share stories about yourself or others who have encountered such tough times but come back, you demonstrate the value of perseverance.

Trusting Yourself
There will be times when the best counsel a CEO can receive is her own. After all, she rose to this position because she had a lifetime of ability and skill that led her to be chosen to lead. Her instincts may be the best leverage of all. CEOs who keep lines of communications open are maintaining lifelines to the heartbeat of the organization. A leader who stays in touch with his people will know what is going on and what is not. He will know when to intervene and when to bring in the cavalry. And there’s one more benefit. He will gain the respect and trust of people in the organization. That trust will give the leader the leverage to govern in tough times and share in the glory of the good times. Keeping yourself tuned to the organization takes practice but more—it takes commitment. Every day.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Lead by Example: 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results by John Baldoni. Copyright 2009, John Baldoni. Published by AMACOM. For more information, visit: www.amabooks.org

About the Author(s)

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership consultant, speaker, and author.