Separation of Powers-Approachable Leaders

A challenge to leaders to look beyond their position and title and question how their leadership style is effecting their employees and the workplace culture.

 I recently had the fortune of working with some amazing clients in the past couple of months. I did a presentation for Fuji Xerox and in my preparation learned how incredibly innovative and high performing the organisation is. On the day of the conference what struck me was how approachable, fun and down to earth the leadership team was. In particular their MD who was very charming and easy to work with.

Two weeks later I was speaking at an education conference when two women approached me and said "We remember you from the Fuji Xerox presentation" (they were at the education conference as sponsors of the event). We started to chat and I asked why they thought the company is doing such a great job. They very quickly said because the leadership team is amazing, they have really nailed it with the people they have chosen.

They then went on to tell stories of how the leadership team didn't see themselves above the rest of the organisation, they mixed with all the employees and had deep strong relationships all over the company. Following this I asked a number of the education conference attendees what was it like to deal with Fuji Xerox as a supplier. The comments were glowing, they talked about the amazing service they had got from them and that they had some brilliant solutions that helped the educators be more efficient.

Cool hey!

Then I flew to New Zealand to present to Westfield in Auckland. I was particularly excited about this because my research showed that they had an engagement level of 84%, almost unheard of and certainly one of the highest I have seen. The energy in the room was amazing, it was like a family reunion rather than an offsite. I then got to meet the National HR Manager who blew me away with her energy and enthusiasm. I spent some time watching her interact with the employees and she was joking around with them and winding people up for the start of the offsite. Then I met the Director who was very friendly and authentic. He spoke about the organisation and you could sense his enthusiasm and passion for the people in it. Then I witnessed him be made fun of by his PA and other staff. You could tell that this was not an ego driven, precious leader. He was part of the team.

Before I got up the Director presented some awards to the staff. It was interesting to hear what people said in the crowd about the people getting up. A guy behind me said to his colleague "I am so glad that she got that reward she is such a nice person and works her butt off". All around me I heard similar things. Amazing!!! No wonder their staff turnover is so low.

From there I went to a manufacturer Cerebos Greggs. I was very early so I sat in their tea room and watched people come into work. The buzz was amazing, people bounded into work laughing and chatting. One woman was singing as she came in. I have to say it brightened up my mood ten fold. During my workshop with them I asked them to come up with a 'bright spot' (something they do that works really well and improves the organisation). Many of the groups sited the company get togethers they have each quarter. This is where the CEO comes in and presents to everyone in the organisation and gives them an update on where the company is going and what they have achieved. What they love the most is that everyone is invited from factory staff to executives. "Everyone comes together and mixes and it makes us feel like we are part of something, and that we are important to the organisation".

What all these companies have in common was that the leaders did not see themselves as better than or above the other people in the business. They mixed with and were part of the broader team. The result was that all these organisations were performing well, had very high engagement levels and had very low turnover of staff. All this saved them huge dollars and kept their culture alive. In contrast I have worked in other organisations where the leaders viewed the other people in the business with contempt and inferior to them. Funnily enough their engagement levels were lower and staff turnover much higher.

When I was in the US I heard about a CEO who had a special elevator installed just for him which went straight to his office so he didn't have to talk to the staff. Tragic! The TV show sensation 'Undercover Boss' is all about leaders having these light bulb moments from getting to know staff at lower levels of the business. Do we really need a camera crew and a disguise before we can find out what is happening in our organisation?

Twenty Five. This is the number of stores that the CEO of Starbucks visits each week. He leads by walking around and finding out what challenges are on the front line.

The former CEO of Virgin Blue used to travel in the back corner of the plane and would help the cabin crew clean the plane before turnaround.

This is not just a problem for the executive suite. Do you really understand the people you lead? Are you approachable and authentic with them, or do you have separation of powers?