Leadership Visibility: The importance of leaving the desk and getting out into the field
By Julia Borges and Madison Hanscom
As we move into a world where the use of technology is rapidly increasing to make our work lives more seamless, it can be easy to forget about the importance of human interaction. While artificial intelligence has become a vital part of organizational performance, human interaction is still at the core of organizational health, culture, and safety. In today’s complex, technology-driven world of work, leaders are as busy as they ever have been, making it difficult for them to get away from their desk and out into the field with their teams. While leaders have a commitment to their tasks, duties, and team members, balancing these critical components can pose quite a challenge for leaders across various types of organizations.
Although the use of technology allows us to virtually connect on a daily basis and may seem more efficient, personable social interaction remains one of the most effective ways for leaders to influence. The reasoning behind this is that humans are social beings; our social needs and behavior can be traced down to the neurobiology of our species. Not only is this theory supported by our history, it is also greatly supported by research done by leading psychologists today. Meaningful social interaction is at the forefront of the most prominent, empirically supported theories in business management and psychology. For instance, a transformational leader is one that serves as an ideal role model, inspires and motivates followers, offers support and concern for their employees, and challenges them to think (1). These research-backed behaviors are more achievable when the leader is present, and transformational leaders are associated with greater employee participation in safety and higher job performance (2).
Another well-supported theory is leader-member exchange (LMX), which illustrates how leaders can have high or low quality relationships with their followers, and depending on the quality of the relationship, followers behave differently. When employees feel they have a high-quality relationship with their leader, this is related to higher safety communication quality, job performance, job satisfaction, and less accidents (3,4). A leader can create high-quality LMX relationships by helping their followers feel supported, respected, and like they are in the "in-group".
When leaders actively engage with followers, there are more opportunities to model positive safety behavior and promote safety. Leaders play an integral role in shaping the safety climate, and this can ultimately lead to fewer accidents and injuries (5).
With this information in mind, it is important to not only understand it, but also how to apply it. As every organization is unique in their styles, workloads, and cultures, so are their solutions. While the most effective solutions may differ between leaders of different organizations, we have developed some tools and tricks that may help leaders get out of the office and out into the field, engaging with their employees.
Go into the office early. Ironically, sometimes the office can be a challenging place to actually get work done, with people coming and going, and other distractions to challenge the focus of leaders. By going into the office early to get a head start, leaders can beat the crowd and get ahead of their work, leaving time to engage in the field with their team members.
Do work at home. While all organizations vary in remote work ability, this may not be an option for everyone. But if it is, it can be a great way for leaders to get work done at home and spend more time in the field with their teams.
Go into the field before the office. For some leaders, the office can feel like a ‘black hole’ – a place where their work consumes their focus and time, hindering them from leaving and getting out into the field. By saving the office work for later and going out into the field first, this ensures that leaders spend time both engaging with their team members and getting their work done.
Set a schedule. Scheduling is an essential tool that is used by nearly every organization. By leaders setting a schedule of time spent in the office and out in the field, and sticking to it, it ensures that they are balancing their workloads effectively by setting aside time for their office work and team engagement.
Take your lunch out in the field. Lunch is a great way to take a break and re-energize. Leaders can take advantage of this by having their lunch out in the field with their team members; this can include bringing home lunch and enjoying it in the field or going out to eat with their teams. This face to face interaction can help leaders get in that valuable face time and also learn more about their team members.
Drop by for a couple of minutes. Swing by to check in - even if you only have 10 minutes. When it comes to face time with your team members, every second counts. Field engagement doesn't have to mean spending half the day with your team, it can also mean stopping by and checking in when you get the chance, only if it's for a few minutes.
With the world of work being more complex and busier than it ever has been, it can be easy to get caught up at the office. And while this type of work is essential, it is also important that leaders take the time to engage with their team members out in the field. Being that humans are social beings, interaction is critical for organizational success. After all, leadership is a process, not a person. You cannot have a "leader" without the follower relationship. The definition of an effective leader includes how they influence, motivate, stimulate, and support their followers - and this is much easier to achieve when strong social connections are made. In other words, you cannot be an effective leader without being present and involved! By developing personalized strategies that work for both the leader and organization, this can help leaders get out into the field more to engage with their employees.
(1) = Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
(2) = Clarke, S. (2013). Safety leadership: A meta‐analytic review of transformational and transactional leadership styles as antecedents of safety behaviors. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 86(1), 22-49.
(3) = Gerstner, C. R., & Day, D. V. (1997). Meta-Analytic review of leader–member exchange theory: Correlates and construct issues. Journal of applied psychology, 82(6), 827.
(4) = Hofmann, D. A., & Morgeson, F. P. (1999). Safety-related behavior as a social exchange: The role of perceived organizational support and leader–member exchange. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(2), 286.
(5) = Barling, J., Loughlin, C., & Kelloway, E. K. (2002). Development and test of a model linking safety-specific transformational leadership and occupational safety. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(3), 488.