I was first introduced to the term, “leadership by wandering around (LBWA),” in one of my Engineering Management Masters courses. Being such a natural concept to me, the idea that being present and interacting with your Troops had to be defined in black-and-white astonished me. However, three years after being introduced to this term, I’ve learned that it is in fact NOT a natural concept to many leaders.
The idea, also joined by “management by walking around (MBWA),” involves engaging with Soldiers or employees through spontaneous, unplanned movements (hence wandering) to accomplish many different purposes. These purposes can include anything from informal inspections to verify quality or timelines to interacting with people to maintain and strengthen professional relationships. I easily found this was my favorite time of each day. I valued the ability to leave my office and spend time with my Soldiers in the unit area. My Operations Sergeant loathed these times as he often had to hunt me down to sign papers. Nonetheless, this simple concept served as the foundation of how I influenced and drove the culture of my company; it was a simple way to build rapport with Soldiers and had an incredible impact.
If this concept is new to you as a leader, I recommend you start by setting aside 30 minutes a few days a week to simply leave your office and wander around your organization’s area to interact with Soldiers. As it becomes more natural, consider some helpful ideas to make these times valuable for you as a leader too.
- There is power in a name. Learn the first names of your Soldiers (if you haven’t already) and the names of their spouses and children. As a personal preference, I liked to use the Soldiers’ first names when addressing them. It showed I knew them and that I cared about them as a person, not just a rank. I wouldn’t use their first names often or in more formal scenarios, but during my “LBWA” times I would. Start the conversation by asking how their spouse and/or kids are doing (“Tom, how is Savannah? She’s due in a few weeks right?” or “Sam, how is Tiffany and baby Isaiah? Do you guys have any big plans for the upcoming long weekend?”). That will take you a long way in gaining their trust and care. It will undoubtedly lead them to have a vested interest in your organization too.
- Get their feedback. Use these opportunities to ask them how things are going in the organization / unit and what they think you can do to make it better. Without their NCOs present, you will get more honest feedback, which is not only helpful, but also entertaining.
- Use this time to reiterate or emphasize your priorities for the unit. I would ask them how their running has been recently or if they knew about patrol base operations for the upcoming training event. You can treat it as an informal, low-threat inspection.
- Keep them informed during these times. No matter how effective of a unit training management program you have in your company or platoon, Soldiers are always going to be uninformed to some degree. Use this time to shed light on what is coming up if they don’t know. Let the “Private News Network” work for you.
- Leverage these conversations to get an accurate picture of what is going on in your unit. I’ve learned that Soldiers really won’t lie to you one-on-one. Use that to your advantage too.
Image credit: www.history.com’s Eisenhower image gallery.
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