Why Being a Visible Leader is Essential to Retain Top Talent (and It’s Worth Your Time)

I recently got back from speaking at an International conference in Puerto Rico. As you may recall, Puerto Rico was devastated a year and a half ago by Hurricane Maria. The General Manager at the premium Hotel where the conference was being held was a speaker, sharing what it was like being one of the surviving hotels during the natural disaster. It’s a powerful story in and itself, and I’m excited to share with you the VLOG interview I did with him next week. But let me give you a teaser:  visible leadership and every leader pitching in was essential to get through the crisis. But did that stop once the hotel was back up and running? No. I saw him half a dozen times in the week that I was staying on the property. This man knew people by name, cared about the culture of the organization, and had his pulse on the hotel every day.

This is not the reality in most organizations. Nor is visible leadership a requirement in the hospitality industry alone. For those of you who read my book Forever Recognize Others’ Greatness, we stress how it is virtually impossible to authentically and sustainably recognize your top talent unless you get out of your office and meetings. In this blog, I’m going to tell you why.

And by the way, even if you are not yet a formal leader, this post will be helpful to shape your leadership philosophy and provide some insights to align with those you report to.

But first, a confession….

Visible leadership was not always a priority for me. When I took on my first management job 10 years ago, sure I got to know my team, but being visible outside my team was not a priority. I focused on my peers. I worked hard to maintain a “perfect presence” – professional suits, high heels, scarves, and the right jewelry. Looking back, I thought that coming across with the right image built credibility. Really, I was playing a role. It was about me. What I learned with time was that what I had been creating was an us and them impression.

So I changed that. I started dressing in fewer suits and stopped cramping my toes. I spent part or all of every Friday out of the office with direct service providers who knew the answers that we on senior team didn’t have a grasp on to fix.

I learned four valuable lessons that I’m excited to share with you here. And you know what? My job got easier. I became more effective. I was more confident. I was assertive because I knew what was really going on. And I was more respected (not always popular by my peers, but they respected me more for it as did the staff and supervisors).

4 Reasons Visible Leaders Are More Effective

1. It makes you more accessible.

You probably already are an accessible leader. People can reach you by phone, text and perhaps you also have an open-door policy. But do people feel you are accessible? Do they want to approach you? Are you around on their “turf” levelling the playing field? Are you seeing for your own eyes what they are experiencing? When you are present, you have a different leadership presence.

And it makes you think about how you do all your work as a leader differently. Recently, I received an email from one of my clients. He’s a very successful, third generation business owner. At the end of the year, he often gives a bonus to staff. Instead of mailing a cheque, however, he personally delivers them to his staff. The point is, he went to them as opposed to everyone receiving them all at one time at their holiday lunch. He went to each person individually and he recognized their unique contribution. It was more than a cheque. It was a touchpoint, one that levelled the playing field.

2. It allows you to see what’s not working.

I had this incredible opportunity to speak with a senior leader, someone who used to be my boss’s boss many years ago. Given some of the challenges in the industry she works in, she said to me, “I’ve never spent more time out of my office, at the frontline, trying to help address issues and to be a support to people. If I say it once to staff, I say it 10 times a day, we can get through this.” She’s not micromanaging, let me be clear. She’s showing up to provide visible support, asking great questions and breaks down barriers. She has never known more staff or been known by them. Now, she cannot imagine it any other way.

What a difference it makes to see a senior leader at the frontline making that statement not just from her mouth, but by physically being there, and reassuring we can get through a crisis or just seeking to understand how staff feel work processes can be improved, made more efficient, delight customers more, or celebrate small improvements made every day.

3. It gives you a chance to celebrate in the moment.

When you see people doing good things and they are working well, it allows you to take that moment, to recognize and acknowledge it. If there’s one thing I know from working alongside, doing presentations for, and even doing training for professionals, they often undervalue their accomplishments. It becomes an expectation before long, that’s the new norm. When you personally see it and go into their work environment, it allows you to take a step back and celebrate it.

I spoke for a group of hospitality senior leaders, and subscribed to their internal newsletter for two months before speaking with them so I could weave in great examples and opportunities for improvement into my speech. It became very apparent some leaders who submitted recognition that they knew intimately the great work that was happening, people’s names and the pulse of the team. Not only did this come through with their written kudos, but also describing how they celebrated it with staff and supervisors in the moment when they were on-site. Others leaders’ submissions were very high level and didn’t come across as truly knowing their people. Which leader would you follow?

4. It allows you to get to know people as people.

Visible leadership enables you to recognize what your top talent most values. If you have somebody that’s super organized and efficient, you can recognize authentically and in a meaningful way how you appreciate their organizational skills. For somebody that you notice is always smiling and greeting people, whether it be their colleagues or your customers, you’re able to acknowledge how important that is in creating a welcome environment for all. It is more powerful to notice specifics in the moment than saying, “I heard,” or, “In this survey somebody told me.” Sure, you can do both, and it lasts longer and is generally received as more meaningful when they experienced it, and were able to zoom in on what they most value.

You may be thinking, “but I don’t have time for this!” Here is how I did it. I blocked time every Friday, the whole day or part of a day, and then got very discerning about how I spent the rest of my week. If a meeting didn’t have an agenda, if my attendance wasn’t absolutely necessary, if a project didn’t have a sponsor or budget, etc, I said no. Again, it didn’t always make me popular, but I was more effective in the end because I was making a profound impact from what I was learning and how I was recognizing folks doing the frontline work that mattered most in the organization.

Looking for more great ideas? Don’t miss a VLOG by subscribing to my YouTube channel. Every week we share resources, ideas and information to help you build strong, healthy cultures. You can also forward this along to your friends and colleagues to build the rock solid organizations that deserve you!

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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