Are You a Visible Leader? - Michelle Gibbings

Are You a Visible Leader?

Meetings, meetings, and more meetings are a constant feature of the modern organisation, challenging leaders to determine how and where to best spend their time.

It is easy to fill every workday with back-to-back meetings and little time for interaction with your team. It’s also easy to get stuck behind your computer responding to the never-ending cycle of emails that hit your inbox. Both of these are even more true when many of us still spend a significant portion of time working from home.

However, being caught in the meeting and email traps means you can become the invisible leader.

Many years ago, I worked in a team where the people leader was commonly referred to as the ‘Phantom’ because they were never present. While it was said as part of light-hearted banter, the undertone was a lack of respect for the person because whilst they had the title of leader, they didn’t display the behaviour and actions to back it up.

Early in my corporate career, I, too, was often guilty of being invisible. I could easily get sucked into meetings that ran all day, sporadically see my team and therefore only communicate late at night and via email. It wasn’t effective leadership, and my team certainly didn’t like it.

Why it Matters
Visible leadership is about being seen and heard. It’s about being present, engaged, and actively involved with your team.

When you’re visible, you’re not the figurehead who swans in and out of meetings. Instead, you care, connect, communicate and have a genuine impact.

According to research by Professor Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School, leaders who are visible and accessible are more likely to foster a culture of psychological safety, which is critical for innovation and creativity.

Being present and engaged sends a powerful message to your team members that you value them and that their contributions matter.

Assess Your Impact
To lead well, you must be visible. You are visible when you are present, engaged, responsive and spend time with your team.

When you look at your working week, what portion is spent in meetings or time working alone, and what portion is spent with your team? This may be one-on-one meetings, casual conversations, team meetings, responding to requests or other opportunities for connection.

Next, consider what you need to do to create capacity in your week to spend more time with your team. For example:

  • Do you need to delegate more?
  • Do you need to say ‘no’ to unnecessary meetings?
  • Do you need to better manage your work schedule and interruptions?
  • Do you need to prioritise differently?
  • Are there meetings you don’t need to attend, or could you shorten them?
  • Do you need to be more deliberate about when you email and discuss face to face (be it online or in person)?
  • Do you need to be more engaged and responsive with your team?

Habits to Build
Leaders must balance the need for visibility with the need for autonomy and empowerment. They must also navigate the complexities of digital communication, which can often feel impersonal and detached.

So, you want to be focused and deliberate about the habits and structures you establish to create the capacity to connect, engage and spend time with your team.

For example, you can:

  • Set aside dedicated time each week to spend with your team – collectively or individually.
  • Phone team members, rather than constantly emailing them.
  • Have agreed on boundaries with team members regarding ringing and emailing outside standard working hours.
  • Have face-to-face meetings and regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings, which aren’t cancelled at the last minute.
  • Ensure you know each team member on an individual level, including their personal aspirations and understanding what matters the most to them.
  • Have regularly scheduled team-building activities where your team spends time getting to know each other, building connections and strengthening your ways of working.

These actions go beyond just having the so-called ‘open door policy’. It’s being ready and willing to talk (and listen), providing space and time for discussion, giving the people around you permission to challenge and ask questions, finding ways to involve your team and listening to their ideas and concerns.

This takes time because good conversations take time, just as good leadership takes time.

In closing, reflect on the words of the French Film Director, Robert Bresson, who said: “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen“.

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