Expert advice on Business Leadership and tips on becoming a more effective Leader.

Leadership Lesson: Does MBWA Really Work? By Gregg Gregory

MBWA – Management by Walking Around. This concept has been around for over a hundred years. Throughout the Civil War, even President Lincoln made it a point to “get out and circulate among the troops”.

In fact he relieved General John Fremont from his command in 1861 because in his words, “His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with.”

Today is really no different; leaders need to circulate among the troops. Unfortunately instead of Management by Walking Around the troops see this as Management as Wandering Aimlessly. Many leaders today are not taking a commanding presence in the front line of the workforce.

Many of today’s leaders are multi-tasking all day; so much so that while they are not locking themselves in their offices they simply are doing more work (managing things) and not leading the troops. When they do get out and try to circulate they are viewed as “checking up” on everyone and not communicating or leading.

This lack of simple communication leads to weaker relationships between management and team members. The interesting part is that many of today’s front line leaders do not do their MBWA because they say it is not their style or how they choose to lead. Hogwash!

If a leader wants to build a team that leader needs to be out in front leading, as the great ones have in the past. Some say, “I am not comfortable with this”. Well then, learn it and practice it.

In an article found in Fortune Magazine (October 19, 2006) British researches revealed that “The evidence we have surveyed … does not support the (notion that) excelling is a consequence of possessing innate gifts.”

What this is saying is that MBWA needs to be practiced like everything else we need to do. The first few times the leader attempts this most likely they will feel quite uncomfortable and maybe even fail.

In my workshops I have attendees take their pen and sign their name on the cover of the workbook. After a few minor exercises, I have them return to the front of the workbook and sign their name again right next to where they did the first time. This time I tell them to use their other hand to sign.

This is usually met with groans and moans as well as “I can’t do it” etc. After a few seconds pass everyone (usually everyone) completes the task and then I ask; what was the purpose?

There are actually two reasons behind my exercise.

* 1 – To get people out of their comfort zone and actually try something they think they cannot do, and prove they indeed could do it. It may not look pretty yet they did it.

* 2 – Secondly and longer lasting is the fact that, if they actually practiced signing their name every day using their opposite hand for a period of 30 days, they indeed would get better at this simple task. This goes to show that practice indeed does make you better. This so long as you are practicing the right thing.

Now let’s apply this to MBWA. If leaders will simply take a specified time out of their day even just a few times per week to walk around and chat with their employees they will learn more about them and ultimately build a stronger level of trust creating a better team environment.

As my friend and colleague Zig Ziglar says, “Inch by inch it’s a cinch; by the mile, it’s a trial.” So continue practicing just make sure you are practicing the right things.
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Gregg Gregory helps organizations design cooperative teams that produce results and perform at peak levels. Through his interactive workshops and consulting, Gregg’s clients achieve greater team focus, cooperation, productivity, and impact. You can visit Gregg at TeamsRock.com

-What are your thoughts on the ideas above? Do you agree or disagree? Is there anything you would like to add?

  • eddie_bjones

    i love the analysis here; the kind of leadership style that makes know your employees (workers) and your employees getting to know you better. I love management by walking around.

  • I’m glad you found it helpful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us here 🙂