The Travel Agent Leader – By Arnie Wohlgemut
One of the most interesting reality TV shows I watch is Undercover Boss. In each episode, the boss or an owner, go undercover to get a better understanding of how his or her people are doing and what they are experiencing. The part that I find interesting is that they want to get a taste of what’s happening. Why? I think there may be some reasons for this:
- They believe their supervisory team is either sugar coating or don’t know what is happening on the front lines, or
- They believe they have lost touch of the business they lead. They don’t want to be a Travel Agent Leader.
What is a Travel Agent Leader?
It’s a leader who has not done what he or she expects the frontline staff to do nor are they willing to do those things! They are slow to listen, but all too often quick with advice.
When I moved to a new organization in 2007, one of the first things I did was put my self on the “on-call rotation”. I wanted to see for myself how it worked and why those costs were so high. For the next two plus years, when it was my week, I would respond at all hours of the night to calls – heat loss alarms, floods, vandalism, power failures etc. – in person. Waking up from a deep sleep was not fun but I was willing to see what my staff also faced! I was surprised what I learned. But was able to put new strategies in place because I was there in real time.
Here are some key reasons for being on the front lines:
- By doing the job, you earn respect. Without respect, you can never truly lead a team.
- By experiencing the various roles, you gain insight into what works and what does not. This is a management function. It helps us remove road blocks, not build them.
- By walking in their shoes, you can give advise and direction when the team needs it. This opens mentorship opportunities.
- By understanding job, you can be an encourager when things get tough. These are coaching opportunities.
I encourage you to participate in the work around you. Not only will you understand your team better, they will respect you. And you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find!