There’s a common belief about leaders’ necessity to maintain a distance between themselves and the rest of the organization. The idea traces back to the military, where an officer might be called upon to send subordinates into grave danger; and the assumption was that being too psychologically close could make that responsibility extremely difficult.
From data we’ve collected from more than 50,000 leaders and roughly a quarter million of their subordinates, we’ve seen a very clear pattern. Leaders with warm, close relationships with their subordinates are consistently seen in a much more positive light by all of their colleagues. Where we’ve been able to match that behavior with business outcomes, they are also the consistent winners. They produce high customer satisfaction, superior employee commitment and engagement, higher sales revenue and ultimately higher profits for their organization.
But even beyond that, a recent experience reminded me of the high price executives pay for creating a chasm between themselves and their people. I was working with a group that was in the process of preparing a presentation they would make to the senior team. As the project unfolded, I was witness to an unfathomable amount of time spent in revision after revision of the presentation. Staff members spent countless hours trying to “psyche out” how the various members of the executive group might receive the message. They conducted multiple dress rehearsals. The ultimate cost of what seemed to some of us to be a fairly routine presentation had spiraled out of control. An interesting data point: the final presentation was numbered “V19.”