Think of a pyramid – the higher up the pyramid, the narrower it becomes. The same principle is true in organizations – the higher up in the organization we climb, the more narrow our thinking becomes. We like to believe this isn’t true, that we are always in the “know,” that everyone openly shares information with us, or that our extensive knowledge has earned us the top of the pyramid and therefore we have a total grasp on everything going on in the company. But the reality is, the higher up, the more removed we are from the bottom, the line level, where reality takes place every day. Information is filtered as it is passed up the levels in an organization and/or pertinent information gets “lost in translation,” where we end up with a skewed view of reality.
“Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing.” – Colin Powell, Lessons in Leadership. The capacity to influence and inspire can come from anywhere in an organization, not simply the top. However, the closer to the top we become, the more important it is to stay connected and relevant in the organization by walking around, paying attention, asking questions, and listening.
Moving higher on the corporate pyramid may be tough and may take time, but once there, it is easy to hang out and enjoy the well-deserved success and relax. As leaders we realize we can climb to the top and celebrate the success but we can’t stay there or become complacent and satisfied simply looking down. Rather we must leave the office often and engage. To filter through information, we must observe what needs to change or what needs to be fixed.
Montgomery Ward (one of the oldest retail stores in America transformed to an online shopping site, known as Wards) had been around almost 100 years before it started losing relevancy in the retail marketplace. The competition was beginning to take over their market share. Jack Welch of GE purchased the majority stock and ownership and brought Roger Goddu on board to operate as President and CEO.
There were numerous initiatives that Roger was putting into play to meet the deadline. Our company happened to be one of those initiatives to focus on the leadership side. Roger opened and closed every one of our leader development sessions with encouraging words to support his executive teams. He shared a story with us during one of those opening statements about a guy outside of Chicago that not only was meeting his performance goals, but was surpassing them by a measurable degree. Roger decided to go out and recognize and reward this particular manager. He called the press to meet him in front of the store for a surprise visit.
However, as he arrived, Roger noticed weeds throughout the parking lot, some of which were coming up to mid-calf height. Roger asked the TV crews to wait out front for a few minutes while he went in to have a word with the manager first.
He walked in, asked for the manager, and was sent to the manager’s office in the back of the store. Roger asked the manager why the weeds in the parking lot were even there much less up to calf height. The manager made the mistake of replying with what Roger called, something really, really, really foolish.
“I did not know the weeds were there. I never enter the store through the front. I always enter from the back.”
Roger replied, “Are you telling me you do not enter your store through the eyes of your customer?”
Roger went ahead with the recognition and spotlighting the store’s success. However, after the event, Roger sent the store manager a case of Weed-Be-Gone along with a note to spend the next few weekends personally ensuring that all the weeds were removed. That store manager needed to come down from the “tower,” get out of his office, stop looking only at the reports, and see what was really going on inside and outside his store. He needed to connect and engage both with employees and customers. He needed to see where reality takes place every day at his store.