The term “Management by Wandering Around” (MBWA), also known as “Management by Walking Around,” gained notoriety with the release of the Tom Peters/Robert Waterman book, “In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies.” Generally speaking, it refers to a style of management where the boss visits his or her employees in their offices or work spaces in an impromptu way, to get a feel for what’s really going on in the trenches and to remain updated on issues of interest.
In my presentation about Leading as an Introvert that I gave to the US Naval Academy, I talked about how Abraham Lincoln used this approach during the Civil War, as he spent a great deal of time meeting with his commanders on the battlefield. He was literally getting a feel for what was going on in the trenches.
One question that came up during my presentation from an extroverted leader was, “Is it possible to do too much managing by wandering around as an extrovert…could I be making it difficult for the introverts on my team?“
Yes, because we introverts prefer time to think about our responses to your questions. This does not mean we can’t make quick, on-the-spot decisions, we absolutely can. But given that we get our energy from our inner world of our ideas and insights, our preference is to have time to think things through. We prefer not to be put on the spot, and enjoy spending time mulling things over or sharing ideas with just one or two other people.
Thus, extroverted leaders who consistently MBWA without understanding these preferences may find their introverted employees become resentful of this practice over time.
Strategies that extroverted leaders who enjoy MBWA may use to be most effective include:
1. If you approach your introverted employee with a question on one day, give them until the next day to formulate an opinion or respond. They will appreciate the opportunity to reflect and you’ll get a higher-quality response.
2. Be conscious of when you come by. Introverts get thoroughly drained by being around a large number of people and need time alone to recharge. If your introverted employees have been in large-group meetings all morning, they’ll likely need time at lunch to recharge by being alone or with just one or two others. After a full day of meetings, they will feel much more drained than their extroverted colleagues. Avoid a time like this, if possible, if you’re looking to spend significant time with them, particularly reviewing complex issues.
If you cannot avoid such a time (given the pace we all work at these days!), see #1 – stop by quickly but give them time to recharge and ample time to reflect.
3. Schedule one-on-one meetings with your introverted employees instead of MBWA if at all possible. They will be more prepared due to the advance notice and more comfortable in this setting, and you’ll get their best work. This is a more productive strategy for working with these team members.
4. Remember, introverts get energized by their inner world of ideas and insights. They can be highly visionary in nature and excel at thinking through strategies and their implications. Tap into your introverted team members in these areas, give them time to formulate and nurture their ideas, and watch how it impacts the success of your team!
5. Honor the need for your introverted team members to take time alone to recharge during the course of a day. It is an innate need and does not signify a lack of team commitment or loyalty.
If, as Harvey S. Firestone said, “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership,” then honoring the preferences of your introverted team members is a natural part of enlightened leadership. Ultimately, the more you honor these preferences the more successful your team will be, and the more successful you will be.
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Being an introvert is truly an advantage in business and leadership if you know how to leverage it, and if you remain true to yourself.
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