Where Did All the Leaders Go? – 5 Tips for Managing By Walking Around


Have you ever worked in an organization where the leaders are never around – tucked away in their offices or a conference room and invisible to their teams? When this happens, employees are left thinking “where did all of the leaders go?” Sure if you had to get a hold of someone you could, but then your only interaction with your manager is likely when something is wrong.

In a previous life, I worked as a leader in a contact center. The President of the company would constantly stop and talk to employees in the hallway and you’d always feel good when he gave you a moment of his time. Furthermore, on the contact center floor we had a policy whereby a Supervisor must always be walking around – interacting with agents and providing feedback in real time. Among the 5 Supervisors, everyone would spend a couple of hours each day rotating and the affect it had was excellent. Wins were celebrated loudly creating a charged environment and if someone had an issue, there was support nearby. Even during times when it was difficult to always have a Supervisor on the floor due to vacations and whatnot, you could tell the difference – performance dipped a little bit and employees behavior changed when they knew no one was around.

For all organizations, especially those going through change, leaders need to be visible and highly accessible to their teams. One of the best ways to practice this is through Management by Walking Around (MBWA). By practicing MBWA you have the opportunity to achieve so much including:

  • Popping in on your employees to stay connected with what they’re working on.
  • Showing your team that you care and are available to them.
  • Sharing ideas and collaborating.
  • Building trust amongst your team members.
  • Being able to quickly address performance issues or celebrate performance excellence.
  • To gain critical intelligence on the mood of the team.

While some may think that this is one more thing that I have to do or that it may be viewed as socializing when you should be working – both could not be further from the truth when done properly. As a manager your role is to take your resources (in this case human resources) and turn them into performance. Since engaged and motivated employees perform better – this helps to achieve your core purpose. And as a leader, your role is to drive change – to lead the team forward and being connected to your employees and being able to communicate effectively will make leading forward much more successful.

In order to practice Management by Walking Around successfully, here are 5 easy tips:

  1. Make it a part of your day. The best way to make this practice successful is to make it a habit and to do so make MBWA a part of your every day. Carve out 10 minutes a couple of times a day and make it a point to visit all of your direct reports for a few moments once a day. If you’re a middle manager, be sure to interact with your managers’ employees as well. Beyond your routine, don’t be afraid to stop someone in the hall and engage with them ad hoc as well. You’d be surprised how a small investment of your time can have such a huge impact on their performance and yours.
  2. Make it personal. This isn’t about checking a box or making the rounds to look good – it should be because you want to do it and to sincerely take an active role in your teams development. To this end, it is important that you are unscripted – don’t plan out who you’re going to talk to and prepare a list of questions – be informal. Sure, there are times when you have a topic or question in mind which is fine, but it should feel more like an impromptu conversation than a coaching session. And in this spirit, don’t be afraid to ask them how their kids soccer game went or congratulate them on their spouses promotion if they’re open to it. Make it person– your team will notice and appreciate it!
  3. Be curious. MBWA is a great way to learn more about your team and what makes them tick. With that said, be curious and ask open-ended questions. If you’re celebrating an employee’s win ask them “what did you do to make this successful?” or “if we could do 1 thing to help others, what would it be?”. If there’s an opportunity to improve say “what can we do to make this work better.” What’s important is to ask and take an interest in your teams work and them as individuals.
  4. Be open. Use this as an opportunity to understand your employees better rather than to inject an opinion or be too critical. Instead ask a simple question “What can I do to support you?” or “How can we work together to get this resolved or continue to improve?” This helps to keep the employee accountable for their tasks and then invites you to help the employee as they feel they need it.
  5. Engage in simple, active problem solving. In 2013, Anita Tucker at the Harvard Business School and Sara Singer at the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study whereby they implemented a MBWA program in 19 random hospitals. What they found was that MBWA improved performance when managers enabled active problem solving and moreover when easy-to-solve problems were prioritized, this yielded greater increases. Use this as an opportunity to solve some of the easier problems, but if a problem cannot be resolved in a few minutes, set up a separate time to tackle it. Imagine how good it feels as a manager to be able to spend a few minutes with an employee to help them solve a quick issue AND imagine how the employee will feel to have their manager work with them to get them unstuck.

Taking the time to engage with your employees will no doubt contribute to increased motivation and engagement. Let them know their impact on the organization and how you as their leader are there to support them. This is especially true in times of change when there is a naturally higher level of anxiety and uncertainty.  Take a genuine interest in not just them as employees, but as human beings with families and lives outside of work. By practicing Management by Walking Around – you’ll see a noticeable change in your employees and yourself as a leader. By staying connected, you’ll be able to get even more done, together!



Collaborative Dynamics is a management consulting firm dedicated to helping organizations lead through change by providing consulting, training, project management, and coaching solutions.

Log onto CollaborativeDynamics.org to learn more.


Source: Tucker, Anita L., Singer, Sara J.  The Effectiveness of Management by Walking Around:  A Randomized Field Study.  Harvard Business School.  September 4, 2013.  http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/12-113_9a2bc5e8-2f70-4288-bb88-aeb2de49e955.pdf.

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