Why the Best Bosses are Visible Leaders

Are you as visible as you want to be?

In a previous post, I provided an example of a painful experience I had from a customer point of view where there was clearly no visible leadership. This week, I want to talk about it from the employee’s experience.

We’ve all had this experience. The leader who is never around unless there’s a problem. 

I bet you’ve also experienced the alternative too. The leader who despite having a huge workload and responsibility is available when you need her, remembers what you said, takes time whenever she can to come to the work area. That boss who, despite broad geographic regions and large spans of control, still remembers your name when he greets you.

How does that impact you?

I come from a background in Healthcare where spans of control are out of control. Where the stakes are high when something goes wrong. Where there seems to be a constant demand to recruit, retrain and performance manage. And yet still, there are shining stars that stand out as exceptions to the rule, visible despite how much was on their plate, and they were among the most respected for it.

How do you increase your visibility when you’re so busy? Here are a few tips:

  1. Block Time 

There is never enough time to do everything, so we need to prioritize what’s most important. And going to where the value is created, the people who serve our customers and make our products, who have the answers, this needs to go into the schedule proactively. In my last senior leadership role, I would block Fridays. At senior team meetings we’d discuss issues and inevitably there would be no one who knew how to solve certain issues. So, that is where I would go on Friday.

I can remember phoning up a physician asking her, can I shadow you and help understand where the discharge is, maybe part of the challenge. And she initially felt very defensive. “What do you mean the discharges are our problem? I couldn’t be working any faster. I couldn’t be working any harder. I worked for 10 days at a 12 come on.” And I agreed. “I know you are the best. And I know you have the solution. That’s why I want to spend time with you.” 

  1. Know Your Purpose Solutions

On my “Frontline Fridays”, I would go with a problem in mind that needed a solution (one we couldn’t solve at senior team level), and approach the people who would have the best ideas on how to resolve it. I would try to understand what was working, what wasn’t working, and what had been tried in the past. At first staff and the physicians would wonder about my motives. Eventually they would forget my role and know the intention was to learn and support and would open up – what are the problems, what is possible, what are the things they’ve tried. Most commented that if nothing else, they felt supported. 

That physician I was telling you about, well, that Friday I showed up on time with my notepad dressed the way she dresses and I followed her around all day barely saying a word. I would have the odd question but mainly I observed and noted my questions for when she had a moment. On route between floors, we’d talk about solutions. 

  1. Recognize Greatness

When you see things that deserve recognition, acknowledge them. You’re so much better able to see them when you are visible, present and paying attention. Ironically, they were probably there all along, however that much harder to see and not your focus unless you are with folks and experiencing their greatness. 

By the end of the shift with the physician, she said, “I hope you can see how this is an impossible situation.” And what I shared with her was, “Caroline, I can’t believe what you deal with in a day. And first of all, I just want to say congratulations for being so incredibly patient and for being so patient focused and for being so supportive. In fact, you have this way of being able to communicate with families, helping them understand complex medical issues. Even when they don’t understand the terminology, you have a way of bringing it to their level.” Then she burst into tears. Yep, I made her cry. Why? She told me she had been beating herself up all week for not being patient or understanding or compassionate. She was so hard on herself and couldn’t see her greatness with all the problems and challenges around her. It feels good to be acknowledged once in awhile.

Here’s the most important thing I want to communicate about visibility: You can actually see greatness. 

With Dr. Caroline, I didn’t help fix problems that day. However, I sure as heck came back with better insights about the issues at my next senior team meeting; about why we couldn’t point fingers, and what talent we had in our midst. 

What has been your experience? Have you tried something like this? What worked? What was the benefit over the time investment? 

Who are the visible leaders you know? Why don’t you give them a shout out by tagging them or sharing this post and acknowledging their investment in their people. Recognize what you want to see more of, and we need more visible recognition.

Want to check out more resources about how you can recognize other’s greatness? Check out these articles:

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

– Mother Teresa

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