By Karl Barnhart, Director
While completing my graduate degree, I was given the opportunity to write an essay on any historical figure of my choosing. After some thought, I chose former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, General Colin Powell. As luck (or lack thereof) would have it, my professor later informed me that he had previously been a next-door neighbor of General Powell.
My professor, armed with a personal relationship with General Powell, had some distinct disagreements with my assessment of him and subsequently marked down my essay quite a bit. To this day I am still very fond of that paper – not because I think my professor was wrong or that my work was particularly strong, but instead because my research for that essay led me to one of my favorite books on leadership, “It Worked for Me. In Life and Leadership,” written by Colin Powell.
In his book, Colin Powell describes his “13 Rules.” These rules are guidelines for leaders to live by and are comprised of various quotes and sayings he collected throughout his career. Some of the rules are obvious and some are more intricate. One of my personal favorite rules is “Check small things.”
As Colin Powell states, “Success ultimately rests on small things, lots of small things. Leaders have to have a feel for small things – a feel for what is going on in the depths of an organization where small things reside.” As Colin Powell goes on to explain, leaders must get out of their offices and go see the people that work for them to really understand what is going on at the ground level. ‘‘It is critical for leaders to regularly get out from behind their desks and walk around where their staff is working.’’
At SIS, we call this “Management by Walking Around.” It is critical for leaders to regularly get out from behind their desks and walk around the areas where their staff is working. This is where you will learn the truth about important things such as morale, whether or not your staff is resourced properly, if your staff is presenting the image that you want them to project, etc. These are all things that are much harder to determine while sitting behind a desk. Further, and equally important, your staff will appreciate you for taking the time to meet with them. It shows you care about them and the job they are performing. This personal touch is immeasurable.
I encourage you to ensure you are checking the small things. Walk around your campus, office, event, etc., and inspect what you expect. Talk with as many of your staff as you can. Find out what are their successes and challenges. Truly listen to them. What you learn may surprise you and, ultimately, it will allow you to make the necessary decisions to ensure the overall success of your team.