I love to get out on the road whenever I can on two wheels.
Not in Lycra you understand.
I prefer an engine to propel me a long the lanes.
A couple of minutes after leaving my driveway I am deep into the country side escaping from the melee that is everyday life.
I instantly feel connected to the environment. I can see it, feel it, smell it, and hear it. Sometimes I can ever taste it! Wild garlic in the hedgerows.
This is unlike when I am safely concealed away in my air-conditioned car listening to music.
The car definitely feels akin to a corporate office. I am safely locked away feeling invincible.
For me riding my bike runs a close parallel with getting out of the office and spending time in the work, at the front line or with customers understanding how things are really ticking for them. I get a similar feeling of connection and understanding as I do when I am out riding my bike.
How sad it is that so many of the leaders that I have worked with over the last year or so lack that connection.
Don’t get me wrong some of them would love to spend more time out on the patch, but the schedule of commitments does not appear to allow them.
They have ‘more important stuff’ to deal with in their day to day corporate lives.
Many more would run as fast as they could in the opposite direction to get away from the prospect of having to get out of the bubble.
How can leaders be effective in their role if they are so disconnected from the reality of organisational life?
I heard one executive mention that he stayed connected by walking through the building everyday on his way to and from the underground car park.
Hardly connection, but it is better than the chap that used to use the lift and time his walk in to work to avoid as many people as possible for fear of having to make conversation.
I hear others say that they are there to set the direction, and that they have measures in place to tell them what progress is being made. They don’t need to get out to see as the numbers do it for them!
People report on their numbers once a month or once a quarter and at those periodic meetings held to discuss remedial action to achieve missed targets.
Now this is where I start to have an issue with the belief that this type of intervention delivers effective leadership.
Let me explain by referring back to my ride out.
Now my preparation normally starts with a look at the weather, and an assessment of the clothing that I will need to wear to fit the conditions.
I have to decide how long I am intending to be out for and therefore how far I might travel, and in what direction I might go.
A quick check over of the pressures and levels, and instruments on the bike gives me the basic preparation to start my ride out.
At this point my focus switches entirely to the task in hand.
Riding a bike requires full attention. ‘Man and machine’ have to become connected.
Feedback is constant and minor adjustments are critical at every moment of the journey
My overall direction may remain firm, but the means by which I achieve that goal is subject to every twist and turn along the way. Weather conditions, road conditions, vehicular traffic, pedestrians, animals all play their part.
So too does my own state. How am I feeling, not only physically – too hot or too cold, but mentally – alert or tired, in the groove or unsettled.
Am I feeling that connection with the bike – man and machine as one?
It makes such a difference when you are on top of your game.
My focus remains absolute on scanning the environment for minor changes in conditions, or with the bike or indeed with my own capability.
The aim is to get to my destination as smoothly and safely as possible taking in the environment as I go. It’s exhilarating.
After a while I pull over for a quick rest and refresh. I change my focus of attention, I reflect upon the journey so far.
What I have learned, what happened unexpectedly along the way? I share stories with other motorcyclists. We share knowledge, and experiences.
And then I am off again having adjusted my direction and pace according to the circumstances.
I reach my destination.
In my experience leadership is much more effective when it fits more closely to the action learning model that mirrors my ride out.
Organisations are dynamic living entities. Surely to be effective leaders need to stay actively engaged with the key stakeholders and operations in the business to ensure that everything is on track and going smoothly. You cannot do that from an air conditioned remote space.
If you are relying upon remote feedback from reports and data that is not real time, and you are not seeing first hand what is happening in reality then in my experience you are not doing your job as effectively as you might.
Yes you may be making target based upon a distant prediction in a plan, but in practice how many of us make the numbers up to get a green in a RAG report. Honestly, I have!
Resolve to make time and reconnect with your organisation, ‘smell the garlic in the hedgerow’ and find out what and how you can make a real difference as a leader.
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