The question caught me completely by surprise. I had been assigned as the new maintenance officer responsible for over 100 mechanics and 27 aircraft. Since I had come from an aircraft maintenance background myself, I was excited about this opportunity. I was walking around the flightline one day and stopped to watch a couple of crew chiefs changing a brake. We exchanged pleasantries but didn’t say much else. Finally they stopped working and one of them turned to me and said, “Why are you out here?”
I told them I was the new maintenance officer for the unit. He responded that he knew that but didn’t understand why I was standing there watching them work. I asked if other maintenance officers hadn’t been out to see what was going on and he said no.
I was stunned. Unfortunately, throughout my career I’ve found this to be the rule and not the exception. For some reason, at some point in their careers, leaders get the idea that leadership is best done from behind a desk in an air conditioned office.
How much can you learn sitting at your desk? Will you see what your team is really doing, or only what they want you to see? What will your team think if they only see you when there is an emergency or some catastrophe strikes?
Here’s a technique I’ve found very successful, especially as I reached more senior positions responsible for larger organizations. Block at least a half day a couple of times every month. Don’t overdo it, less you be branded the dreaded “micro-manager.” During these times, visit with your team. Work with them. Get your hands dirty. Let them show you what they are doing and how they do it. Ask real questions intended to increase your knowledge, not gotcha questions intended to show off what you already know. I’ve found that those times spent with my teams were the most educational and valuable time spent. Not only did I learn a little more about aspects of the job I didn’t know, but I also learned more about the organization. People were more open to my questions and willing to discuss issues when I was actually working with them.
Yes, you have a lot of responsibilities that require you to be in the office. But take the time to get out and watch and learn. Remember, people are the most important part of your job.