Don’t be an invisible leader

Paul Slezak

I was at the bus stop the other day heading into the city. I had literally just missed the bus and since it wasn’t peak time, I knew I would have to wait about 15 minutes before the next one arrived. 

No stress. I wasn’t in a hurry. Besides, a bit of Vitamin D would do me good. 

A man and a little boy came and sat down on the bench next to me, the little boy clinging to his precious PAW Patrol backpack. 

“Daddy”, the little boy said. “If you could be any superhero at all, who would you want to be?” 

“Spiderman”, the father replied quickly.

I wasn’t sure if he was just saying something to keep the conversation going, or if he really meant it. “And who would you want to be?”, he asked his son. 

“The Invisible Man. Definitely the Invisible Man”, said the little boy. 

“Why?”, asked the dad. Now I knew he was curious. 

“So I could spy on you, and Bella, and Sash, and Mummy and you wouldn’t even know I was there!”, he said with a bit of a giggle. 

The father put his arm around his little boy. “But if we couldn’t see you, we’d all miss you. We love seeing you all the time, Zach”. 

Their bus arrived. Mine was still a few minutes away. But that brief father-son interlude got me thinking about two conversations I’d had over the last few weeks. 

One new leader I had been coaching had been so impressed with his CEO and how she had spent a day on the phones in the contact centre when call volumes had skyrocketed unexpectedly. He told me how she had sat alongside different team members supporting them between calls but had also rolled up her sleeves and had taken dozens of calls herself during that particularly busy day. 

In contrast, I had run a workshop for a group of top performers from another organisation who had been nominated to attend because of their achievements. At the end of the workshop, one of the more vocal participants thanked me on behalf of the group but also made a point of saying how surprised (and upset) she was, that at no point had any of their leaders made an appearance to either welcome them on to the course, or to personally thank them for their contributions, particularly over the past two years. 

None of the business leaders had even popped their head in to say hello to the group even though the workshop had taken place in the company’s head office. 

Both these moments reinforced just how important visibility is in leadership. 

It has become far too easy, particularly in a remote or hybrid work setting, to become an invisible leader or simply a disembodied voice on the other end of a camera-less Zoom call. 

In a previous article on ‘executive presence’, we talked about various tactics to help ensure that potential employees, key stakeholders, and of course team members have confidence, respect, and trust in your ability as a leader. 

One of these tactics is being visible. 

But this certainly doesn’t just mean ‘being seen’, walking around the office, or making an appearance at ‘town halls’ or on all-company Zoom calls. It means being present, engaged, and genuinely interested in your team members – as individuals as well as employees. 

There is no denying that the calendar of any leader can fill up fast. Of course, leaders who are contributors still have their day-to-day responsibilities as well as their leadership tasks; but senior leaders can also quickly get caught up in strategic discussions, client meetings, conversations with stakeholders and shareholders, not to mention board meetings.  

It’s essential for any leader to block time in their calendar for being visible and present. 

What does this mean? 

For those in the same office as their team, it’s about taking time to sit alongside team members – naturally not every day, but at least on a semi-regular basis. For those leading remote, hybrid, and distributed teams, it means having regular time set aside for video calls with team members, but not just to discuss work matters, but to also just spend time catching up with them as if they were in the office with you. 

Remember, visibility + reliability = credibility. 

Every leader wants to be credible in the eyes of their employees. But part of this credibility doesn’t just come from being visible. It also means being approachable. After all, it’s one thing for your team members to know you are there (because they see you); but knowing that they can come to you and confide in you is something completely different. 

Nobody will confide in or put their trust in an invisible leader.

But it’s ultimately a leader’s genuine presence and regular availability that will increase team morale, loyalty and commitment. 

For many employees, the idea of visibility also includes a leader being transparent when it comes to communication. 

It’s highly unlikely that anyone will ever leave an organisation because they felt they knew too much. On the other hand, feeling like they’ve been kept in the dark or left out is becoming a far too common experience particularly for those working in remote or distributed teams. For this reason, leaders who consciously focus on being visible understand the difference between 'engaging with' as opposed to simply 'communicating to' their team.

Leaders who are visible, present (physically and emotionally), and engage with their team will ultimately see a more motivated team as opposed to a group of disengaged employees. 

While invisible leaders might have an extremely thorough grasp of where their business is at strategically or financially by pouring over spreadsheets, or obsessing over metrics and dashboards, they are, in fact, missing out on the most important part of the picture. That being just how connected the employees are to the business, and how supported they feel. 

No dashboard, analytics or insights can reveal your team members’ true sense of belonging.

Having said that, you also can’t detect this by having impersonal or insincere brief, cookie-cutter type conversations on a forced walk around the office. 

Be visible. Be present. Be transparent. Be available. Be approachable. Be genuine. Be caring. 

Then, and only then will you as a leader discover how noticed and valued your team members feel as individuals and as a group. 

Inspire your employees, like the leader in the first scenario I described above. Don’t disappoint them (or make them upset) by being invisible, even if, as the little boy hinted to his father, you can see exactly what’s going on around you. Believe it or not, your team wants to see you, too. 

Remember, Hellomonday can provide support to every leader, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, and ideally helping leaders understand the importance of being visible, approachable and authentic.