I once had a boss who was never in the office. He traveled constantly, and all over the country. I only worked there for a summer, but it was several weeks before I even had the opportunity to meet him. In other words, he could have been a candidate for deadbeat boss of the year. As it turned out, he was, without a doubt, the most successful and authentic leader I had ever worked with.
Nearly everyone else in the office had worked with our boss for at least a couple of years and had played some part in turning a small and nimble political organization from the south side of Chicago into a hefty operation with offices downtown and in Washington, D.C. There was a level of trust between employees and employer that began years earlier with a shared sense of responsibility.
This trust was continually strengthened, built upon a mutual respect that our leader had developed with nearly every member of his team. For someone new to the organization, like me, there were emails and phone calls from my boss that helped integrate me into that environment. But it was the existing culture created by our leader that permeated everything I did, and made me feel valued almost immediately.
In this way, my boss was able to lead from the back, as Julio Ottino recommends we do once we have the right people and framework in
place to execute our vision. Inviting criticism and listening with purpose, he
had faith in all of our abilities, which allowed him to focus on the big picture and encourage us to be the drivers of the organization.
We know that face-to-face interaction for a leader can be one of the greatest tools for developing genuine relationships. What is a leader to do when he can’t see his or her employees on a regular basis? How are your organizations’ leaders connecting with employees? What are the leaders you know doing to create a culture that remains strong even in their absence?
My boss was somehow able to do both of these things, and do them well. Instead of being a candidate for deadbeat boss of the year, he ended up as a presidential candidate. His name is Barack Obama.