It's hard to see someone that's hidden. It's hard to know they're there, it's hard to know they exist.
Think about the brands you know and love, where do they show up for you? Where do they jump into your life to let you know about their latest product or service? How do they keep you informed? How do they communicate with you? What makes you keep buying from them again and again? How do they build and maintain your trust?
For many of our people, they didn't choose us to lead them. They found us somehow, even because they'd heard great things, or saw the job advert, or fell in love with the brand, or the service, or the work that you do. But they didn't choose you. They didn't select you as the leader to drive them and the business forward, that decision was already made. But if they could choose you, would they choose you?
Lack of visible leadership is still an ongoing issue in many businesses, and of varying sizes. And that doesn't mean that you have to speaking to each and every person on a daily basis, but it does mean that you have to be seen.
How do you promote your business? Are you the best kept secret in the arena or are you everywhere for your clients and potential clients to see you? Do you speak to your customers regularly about what's working, what's not and your continued working relationship? Are you clear in your communications with your customers? Do you strive to please your customers? Do you check in? Do you take your customers to lunch, invite them to events, do everything you can to keep the relationship going? Do your customers know who to speak to if they need to get in touch with you? Do your customers know you as the face of the business? Do your customers see you often, in person, print or online? Do your customers read about you in the news? Do they invite to speak to their people?
And how do your people see you? Are you visible? Are you approachable? Do you communicate with them regularly? Do they know they can speak to you? Or are you hidden away in your office or at home? Do your people get to see your face and build a relationship with you or is it just your image at the top of the monthly business bulletin? If you're visiting site or attending offices do you take the time to talk to your people or are you protected by your closest team so they can smuggle you into the meeting room where the blinds will be down all day and nobody else even knew you'd been there? Are you a person, or a figurehead? Are you trusted? Do you even really exist? Is your diary always too full to speak to your people but always open for clients and dignitaries?
All too often there's the public face of the leader, the visible leader, and the hidden internal personality. But you can be visible in both circumstances.
Back when I started my career I worked for a while at John Lewis after transferring from Waitrose. The Chairman would visit as many branches as possible each year and then spend the day with the Steering Group - the top team. The Steering Group would plays be visible on the shop floor in the days leading up these visits, but never visible enough to be approached, unless of course they wanted displays changing or store rooms tidying. On the day of the visit the Chairman would be surrounded by the Steering Group and they would have chosen in advance who the Chairman would and would not speak to. You really would think there was a God walking around the store. I always ensured I said hello, and I always got a reply and a conversation, much to the disgust of many of my colleagues.
A few years later and my CEO was the biggest extrovert I had ever met, and every single Monday he would walk around the building stopping and talking to as many teams and as many teams as possible as we started the new week. If you needed to speak to him, he found the time, even keeping time in his diary free for the occasions that people may need his ear. He was visible inside the business and outside of the business and love him or loathe him, you knew you mattered.
A few years after that and I joined a larger London based company with a number of offices and sites around London. The subject of visibility came up and so the Exec Team decided to meet at different locations for their meetings twice a month and spend time speaking to people across the locations. But the speaking to people didn't happen. Instead, the people in the offices would just get annoyed at the fact that they couldn't book rooms on those days and 'what was the point of them being here anyway'. Because, the team would arrive, head straight to the meeting room and stay there all day, with the blinds closed until it was time to leave. This was their definition of visible leadership and needless to say it backfired.
Having your people know where you are and how important you are is one thing, being visible and building relationships is another thing entirely. It's hard to see someone that's hidden and it's even harder to build trust.
How can you be more visible in your role?