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

Leadership Lesson: Managing From Behind the Desk is a Dangerous Way to View Your Organization By Denny Strigl

Managers need to get out of their offices to find out what is really happening within their organizations. When meeting with employees and observing them perform their assigned work, managers will see firsthand both obstacles and opportunities that exist.

The same is true when talking directly to customers. Sitting in the office reading and writing emails, studying spread sheets, analyzing reports and tallying results may be necessary, but nothing can substitute for the knowledge managers gain when they spend time with the people who work for them.

What follows is an example of an outstanding manager who understood the importance of getting out of his office:

Several years ago I visited the president of a retail company in Maryland that sold cellular phones. The purpose of my visit was to see if I could find out why the company was so successful. The name of the company was Americom and the president was a gentleman by the name of Mike Gill. Americom sold more phones, by far, for Bell Atlantic than any other company.

My time with Mike was fascinating. We started early in the morning with a quick slide presentation of his company’s results. Mike not only knew the results, but he also knew the details behind them; products, prices, promotions and much more. Next we visited every department from sales to the warehouse to billing and customer service. I was impressed that Mike not only knew every employee by name, but he could also discuss the details of their jobs. He talked specific goals and results. He asked about problems, solutions and opportunities.

At the end of the day I had a pretty good idea why Americom was so successful; they had a great leader. Nonetheless, as we sat in Mike’s office recapping the day, I asked Mike what he thought was the key to his success. Without hesitation he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a laminated card which he gave to me. I have kept the card and read it often. On the card was the author, John le Carre’s quote which said, “FROM BEHIND THE DESK IS A DANGEROUS PLACE FROM WHICH TO VIEW THE WORLD!!” Mike had signed the card indicating that the last place from which he intended to manage was from behind his desk.

I have always believed that the worst place to be as a manager was behind my desk. As discussed in Managers? Can You Hear Me Now?, when managers get out of their offices and visit employees at all levels in their organizations , they can instantly demonstrate they are open to new ideas, want to learn about issues, are eager to find solutions to problems, and are engaged and interested in the people within their organizations.

Copyright © 2011 Denny Strigl
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Denny F. Strigl, former president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, spent four decades in the telecommunications industry. He serves on the board of directors of the Eastman Kodak Company, PNC Financial Services and PNC Bank, and Anadigics, Inc. For more information please visit the Managers Dan Your Hear Me Now Blog or Amazon.

-What do you think of the ideas shared above? What are some ways one can “get out from behind the desk” and into the nuts and bolts day to day operations of the business?

  • Great post! When you’re out there interacting, you also remember things more easily and clearly. A conversation leaves a longer-lasting impression thans a spreadsheet full of numbers. This means you’ll know all kinds of details about your business you can’t get from reading what’s on your desk.

  • Jen, great points! So glad you’ve shared here in our community. I hope you’ll drop by often :-)nn