Why the Boss's Presence (or Absence) Matters So Much

Erring on the side of being there is best. Cautious detachment and distance can be easily seen as indifference.

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An old minister once summed up the fine qualities of one of his relatives by observing, “She was the one who walked in when everyone else walked out.” He was referring to the woman’s willingness to help people, in part, by being present when others were seeking distance.

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“Being present” is no small thing. Whether it's the person who visits the coworker in the hospital or the manager who walks to the employee’s office, there can be a powerful signal in the willingness to be there. That’s one reason why Management By Wandering Around can have such impact. People want leaders who know what their work area is like and who are not above dropping by to chat. I’ve seen places where the CEO seldom varies from a set path to and from the office. Rest assured, that practice did not go unnoticed by the people on nearby floors who never were graced by the CEO’s presence.

There are, of course, times when leaders should stay away. Their presence may spoil a good time or be seen as an implicit endorsement of questionable behavior. A supervisor who goes to happy hour with the team may be wise to have a drink and then leave before someone puts down a few Zombies and decides to unload a gunny sack of grievances.

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This all falls under the question of when to engage and when to back off. When is presence needed and desired? When might it spark resentment or interfere with work? A leader who is too detached might not be able to give a clear answer. In general, erring on the side of being there is best. Cautious detachment and distance can be easily seen as indifference.

In too many cases, that perception is correct.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.

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