Pack Leadership: Presence

Posted on August 10, 2009

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Kai, flat-coat/chow mix, and Rustle, miniature poodle

Kai, flat-coat/chow mix, and Rustle, miniature poodle

I once worked in a place where the VP of Marketing was also a champion for brand management techniques at our parent company, and was constantly traveling to corporate headquarters on the other side of the country. The Director of Publishing was in meetings or on conference calls all day. The Brand Manager who was my direct boss was double- and triple-booked most days, and often canceled our weekly one-on-one meetings. Sound familiar?

I also worked in a place where the CEO routinely walked through the company and talked to each employee, spent time with each time, and had his finger on the pulse of his company at all times. We’re all so accustomed to irony now that I’m sure you’ve already figured out it was the same place.

There’s an episode of The Dog Whisperer where Cesar helps Donald Trump. I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched, that no matter how much The Donald loves his dogs (and he clearly does, to his credit), his assistant owns them because she is present with them. She feeds them and walks them and makes sure they have water. The dogs love The Donald, but they obey the assistant.

I Tweet about walking my dogs, but that’s not all I do with them. I feed them with my hands, rather than using measuring cups, to get my smell in their food. I put their toys in my teeth and play tug of war with them. I lie down on the floor and look at life from their perspective. I go in the backyard with them and sniff the air. I watch their body language and try to feel their energy.

It’s not enough to have a job title. You can’t lead via e-mail. Weekly team meetings are insufficient. You have to be present. You have to prioritize spending time with your team. You need regular office hours. Obviously you can’t tell senior management to respect those needs, but you can ask your peers to re-schedule around them. You can also be realistic. If you’re VP of a team, and your job duties require you to travel to other offices all the time, you need to choose: Team leadership or travel? Maybe you should be a VP in charge of a special project rather than a team leader.

Presence doesn’t guarantee leadership, but absence eliminates any chance of it.

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Posted in: Leadership