Decades ago, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman articulated the concept of MBWA–Management By Wandering Around in their classic book, In Search Of EXCELLENCE (Caps mine–EXCELLENCE must always be in caps!)
The principle is that leaders must get away from their desks, their cloistered offices, and meeting rooms. They must wander through their organizations, meet their customers and suppliers. The reason this was/is important is that it’s so easy to get out of touch with what’s going on. If we aren’t wandering around, we don’t have a good sense of what’s happening. We don’t know what people’s views are, we don’t know the problems they may be facing, we don’t get exposure to the fantastic ideas they might have.
There’s a reverse part of this concept. By wandering around, we get to directly share our priorities, vision, strategies with our people, customers, and suppliers. It’s a powerful way to build and reinforce the culture and values of the organization.
I’ve updated this concept, I label it as LBWA==it can be interpreted as Leading By Wandering Around or Learning By Wandering around. It’s not limited to top executives but should be part of what every person in the organization must do. We don’t learn about what’s happening with our people by reading dashboards and reports. We don’t develop them by delegating the responsibility to Sales/Marketing Enablement or HR (Though each of those functions can contribute tremendously to developing the capabilities of our people.) We have to get our hands and minds “dirty,” we have to roll up our sleeves and work with our people on a daily basis.
The same principle holds true for all sales, marketing, product management people. We don’t learn about our customers by reading reports, analyses, cruising web sites. We have to actually go visit them, wander around, talk to them, learn from them, teach them.
Somehow we have lost sight of this simple, but important principle.
How far off course we are was brilliantly illustrated in a recent NY Times article. While they wrote the article, thinking it was a great practice, it reinforces how out of touch we get. The article, Executive Mentors Wanted, Only Millennials Need Apply. touted a few execs who realized they were getting out of touch, so they engaged millennials to help coach them. There were even great pictures of these executives and their chosen millennials sitting in their executive enclaves, supposedly learning from their millennial mentors.
Regardless our level in the organization, it’s our responsibility to be in touch, to be engaged with and learning every day. Think about how you can implement LBWA every day. It starts with stepping out of your office, going to the “bull-pen.” It’s reinforced by visiting and meeting with customers.
It’s actually fun, but it’s so powerful. As leaders, we only get things done through our people, if we aren’t actively engaged with them, then how do we maximize what we want to get done, how do we learn what we don’t know?
Get out of the office and visit someone today. You don’t need a mentorship program to do this. It just takes two feet, some curiosity and a desire to learn.