Sunday, May 18, 2014

Insulation


In construction and in clothing, insulation protects us from unpleasant, even painful, stimuli. That stimuli comes in the form of cold, heat, wind, rain, intense sunlight, etc.  Moderate amounts of all that stuff is actually rather pleasant, but when experienced in extremes a little protection is most appreciated. 

Many leaders attempt to "insulate" themselves from interaction with customers, both internal and external.  They go to great lengths to make themselves unavailable to the folks within the organization and to customers of the organization.  Sometimes they insulate themselves by putting in place layer upon layer of organizational hierarchy, each level serving as a filter to mitigate bad news or unpleasant feedback before it climbs to the next layer.  Sometimes, leaders actually create physical barriers between themselves and their stakeholders.  These insulators show up in the form of inaccessible offices (often on the top floor), gatekeepers whose role is to intercept and redirect "intruders" (and visitors), huge desks behind which they hide/sit (usually in high-backed and elevated chairs).  All these techniques serve to insulate the leader from unpleasant elements. 

But, why?

If things are going poorly (or well), shouldn't the leader want a firsthand account of it?  If processes/systems are malfunctioning (or performing beautifully), shouldn't the leader want to know about it early on?  If there is a disgruntled customer (or a raving fan), shouldn't the leader need to hear directly from them?

The best leaders I know walk the halls, they talk directly to customers, they drink coffee with the custodian, they visit the loading dock, they sit in the waiting room, they ride with the delivery guy, they answer the phone, they ENGAGE with the stakeholders, at all levels.  

These leaders understand that organizational insulation will keep them well protected...........and in the dark, right up until the time the ship begins to sink.

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