Lessons From the Tank
by Joe Altieri
March 18th, 2022

A Towering Truth About Leadership: It’s the Little Things

I am the CEO of my organization, and from keynote speaker to road crew and everything in between – if there’s a need and I’m able to fill it, I will. Now I’m wondering – did one of the following characterize your first thought when you read that sentence?

“That’s a really great way to burn out.”

“I hired people to do the things I don’t have time for (or don’t like to do).”

“Leaders have to delegate.”

Most high-level leaders would probably resonate with one or more of the above, and they are all valid thoughts. But when we start believing that some tasks are “beneath us,” I think we’re on a dangerous slippery slope.

Of course, we can’t be all things to everyone, and we shouldn’t try. I’m a huge proponent of delegation and empowering others. In fact, it’s our primary responsibility as leaders to do just that. What I’m talking about here is not stepping in to do someone’s job but helping them if and when they need it if you’re able to, no matter what that job might be. So now I have another question; do you find yourself doing that?

Time is money, and you’re not being paid to push a broom, I know. But what is the result when your reports see you jump in to help, problem-solve, and move things forward when time is tight, deadlines are looming, or production is temporarily struggling to meet demand? Can we really calculate the ROI that a humble, genuine “can do and will do” leadership attitude brings?

How many of us can relate to the absentee leader who is rarely visible and definitely not known for their “boots on the ground” approach? It’s almost a guarantee, in this case, that team members will feel unheard and unvalued, tensions will rise, and constant frustration will lead to a high turnover rate of talented people who start out passionate and highly committed but flame out over time. This is a tragic and unnecessary direct result of “ivory tower” leadership, and I’ve seen it happen far too many times.

We can make all of the excuses for leading from a distance. Most high-level leaders have paid their dues to get where they are, and we’ve lost track of the family times missed, the number of horrible bosses, and seemingly endless travel we’ve endured to get where we are. It feels like we have earned the right not to sweat the small stuff (which is usually very good advice). But that small stuff is what your employees notice most, simply because it’s unexpected.

Make a new policy, issue raises, add vacation days, loosen the dress code, find ways to lower costs and boost productivity – none of this will stand out because those things are expected of you as a leader. However, help pack a truck, visit the lunchroom, walk the floor and check in with the people who are making it all happen (or whatever is relevant to your organization) – these things will get noticed. Those “little things” are what will help to build trust and respect in your leadership and endear you to your staff.

Leaders who are frustrated with team performance but have nothing to do with the team (in my opinion) have nothing to say – at least nothing that anyone is eager to hear. A leader who is willing to get their hands dirty will always have a more loyal following than the one who simply points a clean finger.

And besides, ivory towers are cold, lonely, and totally overrated.

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