Ivory towers are everywhere…

I mentioned earlier that leaders must lead from the front. I observed something last week that reminds me that they must also lead “from the ground.”

No matter who we are, what title we have, how many people are working for us, or how much money we make… we can never forget that we lead others, and that those others are the ones who are on the ground — the front lines — of our organizations. Making money.

You may be able to manage from your office on the 32nd floor, or the front corner of your plant, or from A-space, downtown offices detached from the real operations. You can manage from there, but you cannot lead from there.

To lead, you’ve got to come down the elevator, go to the back of the plant, or hop on an airplane and head to “where the action is,” on the ground.

An example: I was in Dallas last week on business. While there, I stayed at a Marriott Suites close to Love Field. At the time of my visit, there was also a national sales force meeting there (I’ll let the company remain nameless… for now). On the 12th (top) floor, this hotel had a “concierge” lounge; you know, the ones with a small bar, free food, quiet atmosphere to end a day.

Only it wasn’t quiet today. The management — only the senior management — of this sales force was staying on the top floor where they had concierge access. And they were a bit rowdy, to say the least. That’s neither here nor there, as my stay was going to be brief regardless. Afterwards, I went downstairs to the lobby lounge to wait for a client of mine… we were going to go have dinner.

So, here I am in the lobby lounge, twiddling my thumbs and people-watching. It’s strangely crowded for a Thursday night. The group nearest me is almost a dozen strong, mostly men, and they quite obviously were part of this same sales organization I mentioned above. Only these guys were ground-level troops, not uppity-ups like the ones in the concierge lounge. These guys were the ones who just woke up every day, went to work, and made that company money. Lots of money.

And they were not happy. They were railing on about the VP and Manager who, apparently, were otherwise too occupied to go to dinner with them. Like me, they obviously knew where they were. One of these sales guys had a neat idea: seems his buddy back home (same company) had recently been recruited by a competitor, and that recruiting executive, coincidentally, was in Dallas. Why don’t we, he said, call this guy and see if we can get together for a drink?? All but 2 of the guys agreed, so he made the call.

The competitor executive, probably reeling in surprise at his incredibly good fortune, agreed to meet the guys — at a fairly upscale steakhouse to buy them dinner. To heck with a couple of drinks, this guy was going in for the kill.

All but the 2 dissenting voters went to dinner.

My client showed up shortly thereafter, so I had to leave, or I might have stayed in that lobby bar until those guys came back, just hoping to pick up on some more of that conversation.

The folks staying on the 12th floor were so self-absorbed that they forgot to lead. They didn’t realize that leaders do so from in front and on the ground — managers can manage from a distance (though even with managers, I’d argue about their effectiveness in doing so).

Did they lose their entire sales force? Unlikely. These things are always easier to discuss than to pull off successfully (that’s experience talking). Regardless, those sales guys now had a great contact — on a personal, first-name basis — at a competitor. And they were interested enough to spend their free time while at a company-sponsored sales event.

Pretty bold.

And damned foolish on the part of those managers in that 12th floor lounge.

We lead; as such, we are essential for successful, growing organziations, to be sure. But never, ever, forget who actually makes the money on a daily basis. It’s them, those contributors on the ground, fighting the fight each and every day, and we must stay focused on caring for, providing for, and recognizing their worth to our organziations.



Kevin Berchelmann

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