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  • Mark P Stevens

Visit the scene...forgotten part of leadership


Rudy Giuliani's book "Leadership" outlines a feature often forgotten in leadership discussions. He learned early in his career as a prosecutor to inspect the crime scene himself. A leader needs to truly understand the situation in order to lead properly. Today that principle can be forgotten in the blizzard of leadership jargon and buzz words.

"Whenever I tried a case, whether as prosector or in private practice, I went to the scene where the events took place...As much as I love charts and pictures, it's dangerous to rely on second hand depictions. When you actually go to the scene, all manner of things can emerge about what actually took place," wrote Giuliani. "That's the only way to develop an independent view and not be held captive by the people around you, who may want to spin in one direction or the other." Great advice from a great leader.

Good jockeys "walk the track" before a big race to see any imperfections first hand. The TV show, "Undercover Boss" shows executives visiting their stores and being surprised by what they find on the front lines. In the "Big Short" writer Michael Lewis tells how one small investment firm can't believe the level of foreclosures in the real estate market pre-2008. So their team visits some sub-prime neighborhoods in Florida. They report from the "scene" that the situation is worse than they ever imagined. It helps convince the firm their "short" position is correct and the rest of Wall Street actually is crazy or lazy or both.

An example of forgetting that principle? Three words - Little Big Horn. General Custer had no idea of the actual state of the battlefield. He did not ascertain the size of his enemy force, how the terrain put him at a disadvantage and how far he was from reinforcements. He and his men paid a heavy price for his forgetting to "visit the scene" to truly understand the situation.

Have you seen this forgotten principle in business today? Wall Street CEOs who, after the financial collapse, claimed they had no idea what was happening on their own trading floors. Really? Or managers who have never participated in their processes or worked with their customers. How about product design leaders who have never used their own products. Their employees and customers pay a price for their not "visiting the scene" themselves.

One more thing, good leaders never forget others rely on them to have the best view. In some cases it's life and death. In his book, "Blink" Malcolm Gladwell writes about Paul Van Ripper. An officer in Vietnam, he showed the markings of a great leader. "He had an office in our combat area...but I never saw him there," recounted Richard Gregory. He was always in the field learning about their position and enemy troop movement. Once trying to understand the situation, Gregory recounts, "Damned if he didn't take off his shoes, dive into the river, swim out the the middle, and tread water so he could see downstream." He was not content to just read reports, he needed to see for himself to truly understand the situation and to protect his troops.

What great examples of leadership. At times we can forget we have to get wet, get dirty, go undercover, and visit the crime scene to truly understand the situation. Then we can use our other leadership skills to deal with the true circumstances. And our "troops" will have confidence in us. They know we have first hand knowledge because we did not forget to visit the scene ourselves.

Have you seen this facet of leadership done right, or wrong? Let us know about it.

#leadershipdevelopment #talentdevelopment

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