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Visible Felt Leadership and why it matters

14 May, 2021
visible felt leadership illustration of a man and woman with a strategy map and backpacks looking like they are going to hike

In our recent Safety Game webinar, we touched very briefly on the subject of Visible Felt Leadership. We feel that this is a vital component in any values-led organisation and deserves a space of its own. And while we talk a lot about health and safety or behavioural safety communications, visible felt leadership is important across the board. Building trust is a major priority for organisations around the world – and visible felt leadership is the key.

First of all, we all assume that we know what it means, but do we? Just to be clear, it is leadership that is visible to every employee and is felt by them to be genuine. This may sound obvious but you would be surprised at how many leaders think they can simply do a quick walkabout on the shop floor and that’s the job done. It is not the leaders that need to be visible but their leadership. It is a case of Do as I say and as I do‘.

Us and them

So, your organisation has determined its values, goals and targets. A list of company values is displayed prominently in every department, and is included in all staff inductions. If you have taken on board any of our information on effective employee engagement or living your values, you will also be running successful, engaging training sessions and internal comms programmes to remind your staff of these values. But what good is any of this if they don’t see their leaders believing in and actively living out these values consistently in their everyday working lives? Of course, some employees will follow the guidelines and display the behaviours you are aiming for – at least while someone is around to supervise. Others will become cynical and see it as an Us-and-Them situation. One rule for us but those at the top don’t think it applies to them.

What any organisation wants is for everyone to understand and believe in this set of values, and adjust their behaviours accordingly because they feel it is the right thing to do. You also want every employee to share this belief and enthusiasm with their colleagues, embedding the culture seamlessly throughout the company. This cannot happen if those at the top don’t lead by example.

Visible leadership

Visible leaders don’t just pop down to the shop floor from time to time just to be seen. They spend time visiting staff on the ground. They talk with them and find out what they think, the challenges they face, and the good things about their job. These leaders are approachable and genuinely interested in what goes on outside their ivory tower. Communication is vital, so they share updates and company news to keep everyone involved and in the loop. Even bad news is better than no news. Above all, they lead by example, demonstrating the values and behaviours they desire from their employees. A visible leader creates a strong, tangible connection from shop floor to top floor.

Felt leadership

This is more intangible. It is about winning hearts and minds, tapping into people’s emotions to inspire them. Felt leaders share a strong vision, making each individual’s role in achieving it very clear. Their enthusiasm is infectious and they motivate those around them to succeed. They encourage two-way conversations rather than one-way diktats. These are the leaders who recognise hard work and achievement, and give credit where it’s due. A felt leader is one who empathises with employees, offering support and encouragement with both work and personal life.

Visible + Felt = genuine interaction

Of course, you need both visible and felt leadership to demonstrate to your employees that you too are living the organisational values. They need to feel that you share, you listen and you genuinely care. These are the things that build trust and show respect for your staff.

The benefits of visible felt leadership

  • It helps break down barriers between Us and Them
  • Leading by example helps embed the culture throughout the workforce
  • It builds credibility
  • It demonstrates respect and support for your employees
  • It increases employee engagement
  • It opens up two-way communications and constructive conversations
  • It is a great way of learning about the business
  • When leaders share company information, it has a significant, positive impact on staff motivation and productivity.

Visible felt leadership in practice

So how do you go about building a strong culture of visible felt leadership?

Be an employee for a day

Many of you will have seen TV programmes where bosses go back to the shop floor in disguise to find out what actually goes on within the business. We’re not advising elaborate disguises or subterfuge. Just get down there and work with your staff for a day. Immerse yourself in the hub of things. Maybe do this in several departments. Don’t just stand around and watch but join in, even if it’s only for a short time, or to prove that your employees are the experts and do a better job than you. Never underestimate how good it feels to beat the boss occasionally. Use the rest of your time actively engaging with your staff, asking questions, getting a comprehensive overview of how the business works and how each member of staff contributes to its overall success. Try to plan a mix of planned and ad-hoc walkabouts. When they are planned, people tend to be on their best behaviour but it does give them a chance to think what they would like to say. You may find, however, that unplanned visits give more honest feedback.

Multi-way conversations

Make time for genuine conversations with people at all levels of the organisation. Talk with them, not at them. Ask for their opinions and ideas and, most importantly, listen to the answers. Inspire them to share their thoughts – and make sure they feel comfortable doing so, no matter who they are. Most people would love the chance to point out what’s wrong, and to share their latest brainwave. Someone – anyone – could have a brilliant idea that you and other leaders haven’t thought of. It is only worth doing this if you follow up on these conversations. Don’t just file them away. Evaluate any suggestions and act on the best ones. Then give feedback about what is being done, who is doing it and what the outcome will be. Make sure you recognise the effort that your employees have made.

Incorporate both formal and informal sessions. Talk to a wide mix of people – and not always the same ones. Arrange breakfast gatherings instead of meetings. Hold them in the canteen, not in a board room. Let them see that their leaders are friendly, interested and that they get things done.

Let’s get personal

Remember, your employees have a life outside work. Leaders who genuinely care about more than just a spreadsheet will always take the time to get to know more about the people they work with. They find out their interests and what makes them tick. They may even discover shared interests that could lead to a company 5-a-side league, a cycling club or a Come Dine with Me club. Organise fun social events where leaders mix with everyone else. No top table! It is a great way of building better connections with your staff, and showing that you are human too.

The human touch

Visible felt leadership is, essentially, all about adding that human touch. Leaders need to demonstrate that they care about their employees, not just the bottom line. Employees are the most important part of any organisation and you need to respect them and earn their trust.

Breaking down barriers with The Big Picture People

Here at The Big Picture People, we create bespoke training games that get everyone talking. They provide a fun, friendly way for people at all levels of an organisation to come together, exploring ideas, sharing insights and learning without even realising it. Whether it’s behavioural safety training, sharing vision and purpose or explaining culture and values, games are a proven and highly successful way of increasing employee engagement and retention. Book a 30-minute consultation to find out how games could work for you. It’s free, there’s no obligation – and it might just transform your next training session.

 

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