By: Star Swain, Elementary School Principal, FAMU Developmental Research School
As a leader, visibility to those that you lead is one key ingredient to culture building and organizational morale. There is a sense of trust and accountability that is built when employees, colleagues, or team members physically see leaders in the everyday grind with them. By no means does this mean that a leader will always be out in the cubicles shaking hands or at the water cooler having conversations with those they lead. Otherwise, the leader would not be efficient in accomplishing their own daily required tasks. At the same token, a leader who remains hidden in their large corner office behind the big desk, is a leader who will remain disconnected from those they lead. That disconnection can cause people in the organization to feel isolated and inferior, while respect for the leader diminishes.
Being visible is not limited to the literal meaning of visible - able to be seen. It goes beyond dashing through the office with a quick “hello” in the morning and an even quicker “goodbye” on the way out. Visibility is also more than just seeing the leader when they have a directive or are giving a corrective observation to a team member. Leadership visibility is about checking the temperature of your team members, who ultimately make up your organization or company. It is sitting for a few moments at a work station where those you lead are working and joining in on a collaborative conversation. Other times being visible can be a quiet walk throughout the building or office space where others are working, just to observe; or, changing your work location to the location where team members work for 30 minutes or so one day to get a feel for your work environment and provide an opportunity for team members to connect with you in a different way.
Why Do I Have to Be Seen?
It is easy for leaders to get caught up in tasks, responsibilities, and the day-to-day grind of being “in charge”. It is especially easy to become lost in that daily phenomenon when you are driven to succeed and bring about exceptional results in your organization or business. However, consistent isolation from those that are supporting the mission you are working on, can ironically, cause the work you are doing behind the desk to eventually be of non-effect. You must be seen. Why? Leadership visibility has the potential to produce three significant outcomes that will positively affect those you lead and add to the success of your organization or business: trust, accountability, and cooperation.
How likely are you to follow someone you do not trust? How much weight would you give to the words or suggestions of someone that you do not know well or who barely knows you? Sure, your team members may submit to your authority and title out of obligation; if not, they may lose their job. But, somewhere along the way, passive-aggressive behaviors and negative attitudes will begin to creep in, causing breaches in work productivity and decreaesd morale in your company or organization.
So how does visibility increase trust? Visibility gives a others a sense of knowing and a feeling that you are there and a part of the overall mission. It makes those you lead feel that you are a part of the work with them, not just telling them what to do. It is easier to trust someone I can see working on my team with me, than someone who is hidden behind “Door #1”.
Visibility brings accountability. As the saying goes, “when the cat is away, the mice will play”. While the main goal of being visible is not to catch your team members doing something unacceptable, it does provide a level of accountability that encourages them to meet the expectations and standards of the organization. People work differently when they know a leader is present and aware of what is going on. They become accountable, not just to the leader, but to the work.
Cooperation goes far beyond a subordinate complying with a superior. Cooperation is about working together to accomplish a mission, complete a task, or meet a goal. As mentioned before, team members are more trusting in work relationships that are built on a collective effort. Through effective visibility, team members now see you working collaboratively with them, which eliminates the deadly “us against them” syndrome that can plague an organization. Team members begin to see that you are not somewhere on Boss Island, sipping on Mai Tais, snacking on cheese and crackers, and laying back enjoying a cool breeze. They see you active and working to help accomplish the mission. They. see that you are serious about meeting expectations yourself and that you have a vested interest as well. This creates a desire for your team to work cooperatively with you to reach your desired goal for the organization