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Management By Walking About December 31, 2007

Posted by DPL in Business Professionals, Commitment, leadership, management, Navy, Time management, Values.

“Management By Walking About” is an essential concept for the Deckplate Leadership model. This is one of those commonly taught leadership concepts I like to talk about, but I argue that it is most applicable to the Deckplate Leader as the higher up you are in the food chain the less walking around you should be doing if your Deckplate Leaders are all applying this concept.

It is so important that the MCPON includes it in his definition of a deckplate leader, “…visible leaders who set the tone.” The former Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and current Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), ADM Mike Mullen also stressed its importance in a podcasted message to the Navy’s newest Chief Petty Officers in the fall of 2007 when he said, “You can’t be a Chief from behind a computer screen or in an email or even on the phone. You’ve got to be there, out on the deckplates with your people and their families. You’ve got to walk the spaces. It’s the first principle of naval leadership.”

“If you don’t lead, you are destined to manage.” ~ Jon Light

In “Managing from the front lines…or the hotcake grill”, the author of Crossderry Blog talks about the trap that leaders can fall into where you find yourself stuck behind your desk doing paperwork, digging through e-mail, paperwork…basically, hiding out in the backroom. The author also quotes some advice that was received when taking on a new management position, which lists many of the reasons why getting out and walking through the fields is effective:

1) “…you could easily pitch in when needed…”

Your people absolutely need to understand that you are not above taking out the trash or rolling up your sleeves and getting a little dirty just because you hold a title. This is a big way to lead by example, and demonstrate a little humility.

2) “…your presence would deter or short-circuit any temptations…”

Does this term sound familiar? “When the cat’s away, the mice do play.” Getting out and about will let your people know that you still have your eye on them and reminds them that you will be showing up unannounced from time to time.

3) “…the crew would see you were ‘with them’ and not off in your own world…”

Rule #1 in Deckplate Leadership: Never, ever, under any circumstances, forget where you came from. A little humility goes a looong way. And even though you have a lot going on back at the desk, your people are your greatest asset. Make sure they know where your priorities lie by being with them. Also, a large part of your credibility will be gained while what I like to call “leading in the suck”. (I’ll be covering this in later posts.)

4) “…It also showed what you thought was most important — the store operations.”

People generally only care about what the boss cares about. As the deckplate leader you not only set the standard, you enforce the standard. If you are doing that effectively then the standards will be met. If you don’t enforce standards then they will not be met. Why? Because people generally only care about what the boss cares about…Also, we can talk about people as being our best resources and say that they are the best investments we can make until we’re blue in the face, but actions will always speak louder than words. Get out there and show your people that they are important to you instead of just saying it. Let your actions match the words. Your *Sailors will know that you have a full schedule to keep. So by showing your face and just having casual conversation will go a long way towards demonstrating that your people are a priority for you.

How else on Earth will you get the straight scoop?

By walking about and engaging your people in honest, candid conversation you will also be able to gather the pulse of what is going on. You need to be able to encourage frank discussion so that you can get the straight scoop and make the best decisions possible. It’s really easy to become disconnected from reality if you use e-mail or phone conversations as the sole method(s) of contacting your people.

In Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, Omar Harari describes how General Colin Powell would go for runs around the base and start random conversations with Soldiers who had no idea who he was. In doing so he was able to get very honest and open dialog that opened his eyes to problems that he would not have otherwise been tuned into or notified of.

I am also reminded of the first time I ever heard Barak Obama speak. About a year ago or so, I was watching an interview with Barak Obama on the Oprah Winfrey show–this was right after coming home from a deployment and was enjoying some R&R–and he said that for a little bit he found that he fell into this trap as a Senator where he found that he was representing Washington to his constituents instead of representing his constituents to Washington, and he vowed that he wouldn’t let that happen again.

So, he made a policy for himself and his staff that traveling in private jets or vehicles with any celebrities or lobbyists (I believe this is his version of getting stuck behind the computer) would be prohibited. So, in keeping with this new policy, instead of flying to Africa with Oprah in her private jet he went first class on a commercial flight….Well, on this flight he started to have a conversation with a man in economy class about health care and jobs and what not, and Obama said that the man gave him a very real picture of what life was like for him and what his concerns were as an average citizen.

I’m not trying to plug him or anything, but had he not decided to get away from his proverbial desk and “manage by walking about” then he would never have gotten the straight scoop from the people actually doing the job.

It’s just all too easy for us to forget about the personality of leading and get stuck administering.


1. nyawayet amos - September 4, 2008

this is a very intresting concept i’m writing project on so, how can it be related to construction companies?

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