Sunday, July 20, 2008

Battlefield Circulation (Part III)

Battlefield circulation is regular movement within the leader’s area of operations designed to improve communication and enhance the situational awareness of the leader and those he or she leads. It is a combination of random visits and a well-planned, disciplined travel and meeting schedule that positions the leader, in the right place and at the right time, to influence the battle. Battlefield circulation is Leader Business.

This is the third in a series about battlefield circulation. Part I introduced the concept, Part II showed what it looked like and what could be gained – both by the leader and by the rest of the team. (BTW -- the man in the picture above is General Lynch, who I described in Part II as the best "battlefield circulator" I have known.) Part III will highlight some key techniques and considerations for making battlefield circulation part of our daily routines.

-- Get personal. Find out what makes people tick. Ask about their families and outside interests. Ask about their goals and dreams. Know what problems your teammates face and try to help overcome them. Connect with people and let them know that you care.

-- Visit teammates on their “turf.” Assess performance, productivity, and working conditions first-hand. Look for emerging leaders. Conduct performance counseling and give feedback. Determine for yourself if projects are being completed on schedule and within budget. See if team members have the tools to do what is asked of them. Rather than asking people to come to your office to make a presentation, tell them you will come to their area instead. Go sit in a few classrooms. Spend some time in the kitchen or behind the register. Go out on the road with the sales staff. Move out of your comfort zone and into theirs.

-- Conduct a “Vision check-up.” Ensure everyone on the team understands your “big picture.” Assess whether goals, objectives, and individual tasks are aligned with what you are trying to do. See if people “get” what you are trying to do – and if they do so with the same passion that you have when you share it.

-- Meet with key customers. As a school principal these may be 10-20 students representing the demographics of the student body. As a church leader consider your members as customers - get out and meet them, again on their turf. In business these may be board members or major shareholders. Take some time, if you have not already, to put together a list of current and prospective customers and include them in your circulation pattern. Are you satisfying them? Are they thrilled with your product and your performance?

-- Spend some time with the lowest private, the new team member, and the rank-and-file workers. How is their morale? Do they have what they need to do their jobs? Ask the line workers for feedback on your “great ideas.” Few will hesitate to tell you exactly what they think. Gauge for yourself how communication flows in your organization. Ask the new employees what they know about where you are headed organizationally.

-- Take someone with you. While there are often good reasons to meet with people one-on-one, balance this by including others with you while you visit with the team. You are not the only one who needs enhanced situational awareness. In the military, there is no substitute for taking the supply officer down to the front lines to hear directly from the troops what they think about the “chow” or the flow of ammunition to help them understand the importance of their staff function. Who can you take with you to the field on your next visit? Whose professional development can you enhance by getting exposure to your leadership and seeing what you see when you circulate the battlefield?

-- Don’t do all the talking. Ask questions but listen intently to the answers. Write down what you learn and share it with the rest of your team. Your situational awareness is best enhanced by letting your customers, stakeholders, subordinate leaders, and employees talk about their needs and their accomplishments.

-- Stay balanced. Don’t take battlefield circulation to the extreme. If you are always on the road and never sleeping in your own bed - watch out. Maintain balance between your time in your office and out walking around. Keep a pulse on your physical, mental, spiritual, and family health. Many are the potholes that threaten the “road warrior” doing well-intended travel across the battlefield. Be where you need to be, when you need to be there, to influence key events and key leaders and to enhance your own situational awareness - but keep it in balance.

-- Always have a few briefings “in the can” and ready to go. Be ready to meet with a new client or customer while on the road. Have your vision, quarterly and annual performance reports, and future plans stored in your laptop and ready to go for use during employee town hall meetings or discussions with key leaders.

-- Catch people in the act of doing something good. So much of leadership is about who we can influence, who we can motivate, who we can touch in a positive way. Keep some small tokens or on-the-spot awards in your briefcase or “ammo pouch.” Spend time saying “thank you,” “well done,” or “you’re doing a terrific job.” One small “attaboy” from the boss down on the line, on the shop floor, in the classroom, or in the heat of battle, will not only influence the morale of your “troops,” it may determine the outcome of the battle.

Battlefield circulation is a disciplined activity. It is too easy to get sucked into the office and never leave. Leaders must be disciplined to prioritize where they need to be and to know when they need to be there. We must be conscious of how much time we are spending behind our computer versus quality time out with the troops. Note that in the business world it is commonly called management by “walking around,” not “wandering around!” Some of it is random. Most of it is deliberate movement based on a sense of where presence is required, where communication can be enhanced, and where direct influence is needed.

There is no substitute for being seen. Leadership is about influencing people, inspiring them to levels of greatness that they never thought possible. It’s about being genuinely interested in people and investing the time and energy in enabling their success. This sort of thing does not happen by email. Nope – we’ve got to be there. Let's all make a point to get out of our cubicles and get out with the troops. That’s Leader Business!


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