Over the past six weeks I have worked in six countries, with people from over 15 countries. I have noticed a theme. A practise that every effective leader does. Followers are passionate to share the personal impact this practise had on them. It crosses every culture, every type of business and creates a memorable experience that improves performance and employee experience. It starts with the simple act of looking up.
I worked with a Station Manager from one of the capital’s most famous railway stations. After our first training sessions he decided to spend time looking up at his team. One day he stopped to chat with a gate guard.
The guard came from Poland and they discovered the guard was highly qualified in procurement. He dreamt of an opportunity to return to his craft. Over the coming weeks the station manager offered opportunities for the guard to visit various parts of the business to get a better understanding of their procurement process – all done willingly in the guard’s own time.
By module three of our training, this guard was no longer a guard. He is now a proudly promoted member of the procurement team in the same company. A life-changing moment for him and his family.
Working with one of the biggest and most well-known supermarket chains in the region, the General Manager joined our workshop of 30 store managers. I observed a leader who was revered by his team. I used the opportunity to ask the GM why he thought he had created such respect and impact. He generously shared his strategy from day one of joining the business.
“There had been a disconnect between leadership and the people who work in our stores. My most important job was to change that” he said.
Every day this busy leader dedicated the first part of his day looking up to the people in his team. He would walk around getting to know the people on the front-line, what they loved about working for their business and what he could do to make their lives easier. The impact on the culture of the business was immediate and tangible. Very soon his managers understood the impact this had and began replicating the practise. Attrition went through the floor and engagement went through the roof.
The senior leader shared numerous stories of the importance of looking up as he opened our training event. One of the many wonderful stories he shared was one of the proud Georgian butcher. The butcher cut an imposing figure physically, but a troubled one in his demeanour. The whole team showed the same appearance. So the GM asked “You don’t look happy. What’s up?”
It turned out many Georgians are incredibly proud of their traditional cap. The are a fiercely proud nation. Their mothers would embroider their son’s name into the inside of their cap as they sent them out into the world. “How can I stand proud when I have to wear this horrible blue plastic hat. I am a broken man!” expressed the butcher. This was new information to this French leader. Soon they found a way to meet the health and safety requirements of the business while wearing their traditional head wear. The butcher’s mother not only embroidered her son’s name in his hat, she did the same for every member of the butchery team. “Never have I seen such a transformation in a team” said the leader. Instantly the team were transformed and their performance improved tenfold. Including sales!
The Neuroscience of Looking Up
These are three simple examples of dozens I could share from recent experiences. In our ever-increasing busy work lives, some sacrifices undoubtedly have to be made. Taking time looking up as a leader to the people in our charge must never be one. In our studies of the neuroscience of leadership, we know that becoming busier creates a de-humanising effect in our business. This in turn stifles creativity and performance. We must create time to look up towards our people, always.
Everyone has a story of the leader they admire most. These stories almost always involve a version of a leader who took time to look up, connect to people at a personal level and do something that paved the way to success.
Call to action:
Be a leader who looks up, everyday.