May 19, 2015


Leading by Walking Around

By: John Cooper

imgleaderwithteamsNo matter your professional calling, you always have the opportunity to be a leader who not only accomplishes amazing things, but who also builds other team members up and invests in their personal development.

In fact, it’s often hard to achieve the former without doing the latter. Leadership experts could surely list dozens of ways to achieve goals and inspire others, but I want to offer you a simple lesson I’ve learned – to build a strong team that gets things done, you have to “lead by walking around.”

I have had the opportunity to work for, and learn from, some incredible leaders, and one truth is undeniable: the best leaders “lead by walking around.”

In fact, one of the most important lessons I learned as an Air Force officer was to be intentional about building relationships with those under me and ensuring that open and honest communication was always possible, no matter who needed to start the conversation. This lesson seems obvious now, but at the time was a revelation.

The concept of “leading by walking around” is an essential, if little-discussed, leadership quality. To “lead by walking around” is to make an effort to connect with those you work with – superiors, peers and especially  subordinates. It’s as simple as establishing relationships based on your common experience working for “Organization X,” and building from there.

“Leading by walking around” can take any number of forms; I often found myself at co-workers’ desks discussing the latest trends in cinema or trash-talking with competitors in the office fantasy football league (keep it civil, folks) or simply conversing about family plans for the weekend. I benefitted greatly from these interactions more times than I can remember, despite the relative insignificance of Antonio Brown’s two-touchdown, 100-yard performance on Sunday, or the critical reception of the latest Marvel movie (I give Age of Ultron a 4/5).

Why? Because building relationships and establishing shared experiences is intrinsically rewarding, and helps foster a sense of camaraderie and togetherness.

You don’t need to hold a position of significant influence within your organization to grow in this area. In our technology-driven world, where a majority of us are more engaged electronically than socially, we appreciate it when others seek us out and take a genuine interest in our lives.

Many of us are not currently leading the organizations of which we’re a part. That’s okay. If you aren’t currently in a position of leadership, focus on building these relationships within your sphere of influence. For those who do have leadership responsibilities, whether it’s leading one individual or 100, this practice is absolutely essential – trust me.

Noted leadership guru John C. Maxwell has written, “When it comes to working with people, the heart comes before the head.” I believe he’s absolutely right.

You cannot truly lead others until you connect with them. If you make the effort to lead by walking around, your team may very likely find success, but you might just find that the one who benefits most may be you.

John Cooper is a public affairs associate at Judicial Watch and a former public affairs officer in the United States Air Force.