Even though few would dispute the value of being an engaged leader, many still do not practice what they preach. The harsh reality is great numbers of leaders continue to operate in a vacuum by sequestering themselves away in the corner office and attempting to lead from afar.  Trust me when I tell you that being out of touch is never a good position to find yourself in as the CEO. I rarely come across leaders who couldn’t benefit from being more meaningfully engaged on both a broader and deeper basis and hope that today’s post will encourage you to do just that…ENGAGE.

I have consistently espoused the value of walking the floor (hat tip to Tom PetersMBWA), dropping in for meetings on an impromptu basis, proactively engaging key stakeholders, and any number of other items that focus on raising your awareness. Don’t think a span of control – think a span of awareness.

My advice to CEOs, regardless of whether you’re running a start-up or a Fortune 500 company, is to go see things for yourself. I think you’ll find your view of the world will change dramatically when you validate impressions based upon your own observations, as opposed to sole reliance on what you read in a management report, or what you hear third or fourth hand in a meeting.

Think about it… when you’re sitting in front of the board, on an analyst call, providing testimony, talking to the media, or speaking at the annual shareholder meeting, wouldn’t it be great to actually know what you’re talking about as opposed to interpreting what someone else has told you?

So the real question is this – how does a CEO get to the point of being so disconnected from operations that he or she just doesn’t have a clue? The reality is that there is any number of reasons why this can happen, a few of which I’ve noted below:

  • The Optimistic CEO: I have met a number of CEOs that simply choose to view the world through rose-colored glasses. They will believe what they want to believe regardless of what they hear or what they observe. Even in the worst of times, they believe nothing to be insurmountable. While optimism is generally a great quality for a CEO to possess, there is a point at which unbridled optimism can disconnect a person from reality.
  • The Arrogant CEO: These CEOs believe they can will their view into reality in spite of circumstances, situations, or events. The arrogant CEO doesn’t value the input of line and staff management. These CEOs see management opinions as inconsequential unless of course, they happen to be in alignment with their own beliefs and opinions.
  • The Unaware CEO: These CEO’s will take any report or piece of information at face value. These CEOs are overly trusting, and often politically naive. They fail to seek clarification, validation, or proof supporting the information they have been fed. This is a very unhealthy state of mind for a CEO hoping to survive over the long haul.
  • The Fearful CEO: These chief executives hide in fear of making a mistake, revealing shortcomings or inadequacies, or in an attempt at managing perceptions. CEOs guided by fear often suffer from indecision and analysis paralysis. The worst thing about a fearful CEO is that executives who refuse to make decisions and take risks will transfer that thinking to others within the organization. Leadership is a contagion – good or bad. Oddly enough, the biggest sign of a fearful leader is when a leader fails to engage. Leaders who avoid personal interaction, or shy away from social media for all the wrong reasons are likely fearful leaders.
  • The Disconnected CEO: Unlike CEOs who understand how to leverage time and resources via delegation while remaining connected to management and staff, the disconnected CEO does just the opposite. They have reclusive tendencies which cause them to often completely abdicate responsibility and remain disconnected from management. Sticking one’s head in the sand will not make the circumstances of a particular situation go away, rather than the type of thinking will likely exacerbate the issue.

If you’re a CEO with a clouded vision and a desire to change the view from the top, it is critical that you maintain open lines of communication through a variety of channels and feedback loops. All good leaders maintain a connection and rapport with both line and staff. Furthermore, savvy CEOs are always working to refine their intuitive senses. A good CEO demands accountability and transparency. They challenge everything of consequence. They understand that acceptance of general statements and ambiguity, or blindness to hidden agendas will only contribute to limiting their vision.

If you’re a CEO and you haven’t personally spoken with your top customers, suppliers, vendors, and partners, you’re doing yourself and your company a great injustice. If your CFO handles all communications with your banking relationships, and your Chief Investment Officer handles all of your investor relations, you’re flat out missing the boat. If your CMO is making all of your brand decisions there will be h*ll to pay down the road. Moreover, in today’s litigious and compliance-oriented world where the CEO is no longer out of reach, it’s just plain smart to take a more hands-on approach. Remember that there is a major difference between delegating and abdicating responsibility. I think President Reagan said it best: “trust but verify.”

Let me be very clear; I’m not suggesting that you become a micro-manager or that you stop delegating, I’m simply suggesting you do the job the way it is supposed to be done. Great leaders champion from the front – they are not disengaged, invisible executives. As the CEO you are the visionary, influencer, champion, defender, evangelist, and you must have a bias to action. You can be none of these things as a recluse.

Engaged leaders are very visible and very active leaders – they question, listen, assess, and react. I can promise you one thing – leaders who don’t have a clear read on the pulse of the organization, won’t have a healthy pulse for very long.