by Rick Maack – Be!


You are the leader of your team most likely because at one point you did the work they are doing and you did it well.  When was the last time you sat down with your team and got in the weeds with the work they do? Not in your office or some other lonely place but on the floor or at their desks with them in the trenches understanding the issues they deal with on a daily basis.  Hearing the conversations they have.


The team probably will not like that you want to work next to them.  They may think you do not trust them. So, you have to communicate that you want to do this to stay current and understand the work at a granular level.  Tell them that the time you spend will not be evaluating but learning and helping get the job done.

Lead from within the team and behind the team.  Pick a day each week and for an hour or two assist with a project.  Ask the team where you might be able to help let them choose the tasks for you.  Let them lead you.

Stephen Covey calls Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  As experienced as you might think you are, there is no substitute for getting a real-time on-the-ground look at what goes on with the team.  And there’s no better way to do that than to go where they are and do what they do.

In the military, it is axiomatic that there is no substitute for personal reconnaissance.  The best leaders make good decisions because they go and see for themselves what is happening.  This means getting down in the trenches.  

Here are six reasons why doing this is a good idea.

Lead by Example.  Seeing the boss mopping a floor sets a powerful example; if it’s important enough for the boss to be doing it, then it must be important for the team as well.  Getting down in the trenches gives you a great opportunity to set a personal example.

Get the Team’s Perspective.  Get to see the world the way your team sees it.  This does three things for you:

  • You learn what life is like for them.  By doing what they do, you will quickly see what the challenges are, what works well, what doesn’t, and what processes might need to be reviewed and improved.
  • You learn what they know (and don’t know).  See how they use the equipment, ask questions about how they do things, have them show you what to do (even if you think you already know).  Either you will learn something you need to know, or you will find out that there’s more they need to know.
  • You connect with them.  And in working with them, you will also get to know them and can begin to connect with them on a personal level.


Get to Know the Managers.  Putting yourself under the direction of your front line managers does many good things for you.  First you get to see how they operate, their leadership styles, how they interact with customers and other employees.  Second, if you ask them to train you on something, you will quickly learn how much they know about their job. Third, you can get their first-hand input on ways things could be done better.


Get to Know the Customers.  If you place yourself on the front lines than you’ll have a chance to interact with the customers, too.  What questions do they ask? What are they interested in? What else could you provide that fits their needs?  And you have the opportunity to observe what they do, where they go, how they act. All this will be useful to you as you work to establish the direction of your team and business.


Learn the Systems.  How does the team communicate?  How do different jobs interrelate?  Is it clear who is supposed to do what?  What happens when opening and closing the store?  What happens when something stops working? What seems inefficient?  As you work, think about the flow of the operation, the physical structure, the communications.  If something doesn’t make sense, ask your teammates about it and get their perspective.


Get Feedback on Your Ideas.  One great way to get a sense of whether or not your ideas will work is to ask the people who would have to implement them.  You may be bringing useful big-picture perspective to the equation, but they can contribute on-the-ground feedback on how it might turn out, or how to adjust your idea to make it more effective.


The greatest thing that a manager can do is understand the impact they have on the people working for them. Empathize with the realities of the job and support those doing it – and maybe you’ll spare someone a sleepless night.