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Often, our top-level leaders live in another world; they work at the same company with the same goals, vision and share the same elevators, but are invisible to the community working for them. How can leaders increase their presence, visibility, and interaction with the people making the company run, and still meet the needs of other stakeholders, clients, partners and board members? Five easy ways to start.

Engagement. Fiona Passantino, Early February 2023

Invisibility

The chair you see in front of you is a solid, real thing. We can trust it to support our full weight. We can stub our toe on it and we can move it around. And yet it, like all the things in our world, a chair consists of mostly empty space held together by the furious spinning of unfathomably small particles with lots and lots of energy.

A company operates much the same way. Mostly empty space, its culture and purpose exist in the minds of its people.

We humans believe in things we see. Our sense of reality is patched together through our senses. When we see and feel the presence of leadership in our daily working lives, we are swept up in the vision and mission more powerfully than the words etched into­ the lobby wall. When our leaders are visible, engaging us and communicating about this purpose, working alongside us, ready to listen, this builds trust, inspires and empowers.

But so often managers and top-level leaders live in another world. Their days are packed with back-to-back meetings from morning to night with only a knife blade’s amount of room between them to do the managing, people part of their jobs. They are often consumed with office politics, surrounded by other managers, high-level stakeholders, clients, partners and board members, their own positions and pushing through their own agendas. They appear quarterly to give all-hands webinars to share quarterly numbers, they address their community during monthly town halls.

They are rarely seen in the lunchrooms, at the coffee corners, on factory floors or digitally, in the flowing river of company social feeds. After their high-profile public events they take a few questions and disappear. Back to Olympus, to their board rooms on high.

Five Habits of High-Visibility Leaders

With employees working hybrid, the need for highly visible leadership is crucial for stemming the outgoing tide of attrition, attracting talent and keeping engagement high in-house.

TIP 1: Walk the halls

Doug Conant, a visionary CEO of Campbell Soup Company, would spend a few minutes every morning walking around the plant and offices just talking to people. It didn’t matter what their role was in the company, who they were and who they knew. He would chat with whoever was there, get to know them, often memorize their names and the names of their kids, showing a genuine interest in their lives[i]. He called these informal moments “touchpoints”.

High visibility leaders that talk and listen to us make us feel valued, even if our job titles say otherwise. But so many leaders simply don’t want to appear awkward or say the wrong thing. The best way is just plunge in, start small. Force yourself to walk the halls just 10 minutes a day, around lunchtime, during coffee breaks, and just start up a conversation with the intern fetching coffee.

What do you say? Start with hello. What’s your name? What do you do What do you like about your job? What don’t you like? Then move on to ask their advice: Hey, we have a townhall coming up. What’s a good poll to ask at the end?

Listen. Even if the ideas are weak, it’s still incoming data from a human working for you that matters. These small interactions make a big difference to us on the ground and can put a smile on our faces the rest of the day.

Finally, make sure other people see you doing this. This may sound cynical, but calculated optics are multipliers, so never let a good visual go to waste. If the employee agrees to a selfie, it’s perfect for posting on internal social media channels.

TIP 2: Be present during meetings

Being “present” is the act of being focused and engaged with 100% of your mind, heart and body. Existing in the current time and place, attentive to the people around you. You’re undistracted and mentally sharp.

We are ghost walkers most of the day. We physically inhabit a space and time but our minds linger on the past or future. The voices in our head drown out what’s happening around us. We’re bored, stressed, preoccupied or multitasking. Our lack of presence makes others around us feel disrespected and frustrated.

We tell our children to put their phones away at the dinner table, so that we can all be physically and mentally together once a day. But these lessons don’t always apply at work. Our managers are fading in and out of our meetings; on their phones, writing texts and checking emails, not really listening to what is being said. Sending the signal that others should do the same. Is there a point is in having the meeting at all?

In a survey of 2,000 employees, Bain & Company found that among 33 leadership traits including the ability to create compelling objectives, express ideas clearly and being open to feedback, they found that the ability to be mindfully present was the most essential[ii].

Leaders who are present encourage their teams. They are motivating and command respect from those in the room, since they are showing it. They send the message that presence is a requirement for meetings, not just for the ones they are running.


TIP 3: Engage Digitally

Engaging digitally means jumping into the chattering stream of internal company social platforms. Whether its Teams, Workplace or Slack internally or LinkedIn externally, leaders who contribute to others’ posts by sharing feedback, commenting with additional points or simply praising strong content signal to their teams that someone is listening.

Only half of all S&P 500 CEOs have a social media presence[iii]. This, despite the fact that 82% of employees believe it is important for their leaders to communicate vision and values through social channels[iv].

Why do this? Social media is a fast and easy way to join the conversation both inside and outside the company. It allows you to engage quickly with stakeholders and the broader public in a direct, transparent way. Especially younger workers have come to expect their leaders to pay attention to their feeds[v].

Listening to the internal chatter provides insight into what’s going on in the community. It gives you first-hand access to information as many crises bubble up in the social channels first, before trickling into the traditional media.

Start by scheduling a few 15-minute sessions a week in a structured way. Once this becomes a habit, work towards a daily check in, with the goal of posting one comment, photo or video every day. Divide your social time between listening and engaging. You will see the effects immediately.

TIP 4: Delegate High-Profile Tasks

Effective leaders know they can’t accomplish everything themselves. High-visibility leaders know that they don’t want to.

Confident leaders are able to relinquish control and hand tasks to others so they can focus on activities that yield the highest returns for the company. This also develops the team which motivates and engages, increases productivity and ultimately delivers a better customer experience[vi].

But most leaders jealously keep the high-profile, largely ceremonial tasks to themselves. This includes speaking at town halls, giving quarterly reports, speaking at conferences or welcoming big-ticket customers. These tasks convey authority and status to the person carrying them out, but there is nothing magical about reading numbers off a PowerPoint. This can be done by someone closer to the ground, a fresh face, with time to prepare accordingly.

Giving these roles to lower-level employees actually increases the status of the leader. Leaders influence company culture with these moves, and the effects are energizing, instant, and lasting. The message is that the company cares about the development and growth of the least among us, and is willing to give these glorious tasks to people at entry levels. It’s a win for the speaker, makes the leader appear magnanimous and electrifying for the audience.


TIP 5: open Q&A

Open Q&A sessions where employees are encouraged to “Ask Anything” are great regular events to start up. The CEO becomes a real person with strengths and flaws, unafraid to answer direct questions and ready to share compelling information. The format is easy: the leader is available for one hour in the largest room in the company, and there is no speech, agenda or talking points planned. The leader is there to just listen and answer.

These sessions work best with a few ground rules in place. First of all, they can’t be done last-minute; ample time is needed to promote the event, clear schedules and set up a nice brand. Make sure there are seeded questions in advance and a few reliable volunteers to ask them if no one else speaks up. The leader should come prepared to address the elephants in the room and potentially have backup to source more specific questions; a CIO or CTO, for instance.

Finally, collecting the most important actions to change and following up with a plan to implement within ten days of the event is critical. Executing on the plan, showing the results are perfect ways to open the next session; if there is proof of action and follow-through, these events will be well-attended and successful[vii].

Visibility and Change Management

Decisions made on high have a big impact on employees. It’s stressful to imagine that new rules, re-orgs or business directions can come down at any moment, which must be accepted in order to remain on payroll.

Engaged, valued employees are willing to swallow a lot. When we deeply believe in our leaders, our purpose and our individual roles in making it all run, we make sacrifices and uncomfortable changes. If the vision behind the change is clear and we are brought along in the process, implementation becomes easier later on[viii].

No time to read? Just watch.

No time to read? Just listen.

Habits of High-Visibility Leaders 

Often, our top-level leaders live in another world; they work at the same company with the same goals, vision and share the same elevators, but are invisible to the community working for them. How can leaders increase their presence, visibility, and interaction with the people making the company run, and still meet the needs of other stakeholders, clients, partners and board members? Six easy ways to start.

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Fiona Passantino is a speaker, trainer and coach, helping to empower working Humans with AI integration and strategy. The goal is to maximize our communication and connection, engagement and creativity with the goal of bringing inspiration into the workplace.

She is a passionate content producer, and the UK Business Book Award-winning author of Comic Books for Executives and host of the podcast “Working Humans”. Her book is called “AI-Powered”.

[i] Hougaard, Carter (2017) “If You Aspire to Be a Great Leader, Be Present” Harvard Business Review. Accessed February 1, 2023 https://hbr.org/2017/12/if-you-aspire-to-be-a-great-leader-be-present

[ii] Hougaard, Carter (2017) “If You Aspire to Be a Great Leader, Be Present” Harvard Business Review. Accessed February 1, 2023 https://hbr.org/2017/12/if-you-aspire-to-be-a-great-leader-be-present

[iii] Gaudet  (2022) “Why Executives Need To Be On Social Media: Approaches For Business Leaders”  Forbes Magazine. Accessed February 1, 2023.  Councils Member https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2022/12/06/why-executives-need-to-be-on-social-media-approaches-for-business-leaders/?sh=3906bb5739ee

[iv] Gaudet  (2022) “Why Executives Need To Be On Social Media: Approaches For Business Leaders”  Forbes Magazine. Accessed February 1, 2023.  Councils Member https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2022/12/06/why-executives-need-to-be-on-social-media-approaches-for-business-leaders/?sh=3906bb5739ee

[v] Dutta  (2010) “Managing Yourself: What’s Your Personal Social Media Strategy?” Harvard Business Review. Accessed February 1, 2023. https://hbr.org/2010/11/managing-yourself-whats-your-personal-social-media-strategy

[vi] Badal, Ott (2015) “Delegating: A Huge Management Challenge for Entrepreneurs” Gallup. Accessed February 1, 2023. https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/182414/delegating-huge-management-challenge-entrepreneurs.aspx

[vii] HarmonizeHQ (2021) “How to Run a Successful Ask Me Anything with a CEO?” AttendanceBot Blog. Accessed February 1, 2023. https://www.attendancebot.com/blog/ask-me-anything/

[viii] Ross (2021) “6 Ways To Increase Visible Leadership In The Workplace” Marie-Claire Ross, Trustology. Accessed January 31, 2023. https://www.marie-claireross.com/blog/6-ways-to-increase-visible-leadership-in-the-workplace