Leading alongside our teams

By Lindsay LaNore

It’s the time of year when we celebrate the relationships in our lives, and it’s a great time to build connections at home, within the community or in the workplace. That doesn’t mean composing Shakespearean sonnets for your coworkers, but it does mean showing up in a meaningful way.

The key word in the poem above is “alongside.” At the Disney Institute, which trains businesses based on the insights and best practices of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, a major component of effective leadership is not becoming separated from the operations—and people—around you.

According to Bruce Jones, the Disney Institute’s senior cast development and quality assurance director, “We have learned that cast members on the front line typically know the processes and procedures for delivering the Disney experience better than anyone else. So, in order to help the organization to grow and succeed, we listen intentionally to their feedback.”

It’s a great concept. Professionals often say that they love the “strategy part” of their jobs best, brainstorming and thinking up ideas about where their team or organizations should go or what they should do next. But great leaders recognize that strategy, while very important, is not enough in itself. As an effective leader, you must stay close enough to the front lines so that you understand the business better than ever. This means you can’t be afraid—or too busy—to roll up your sleeves and spend time in the trenches.

The best leaders work alongside their employees. One practice that Disney recommends is “leader walks,” where leaders get to know their employees on a more intimate level by working a shift with them—which, at Disney, can sometimes mean wearing a costume. Luckily, at community banks, you won’t need to dress up as Goofy very often, but there’s a lot to learn from the idea.

Working the front lines, or simply sitting and observing them, is a chance to listen to what employees and customers are really saying and what their opinions are. It adds to your knowledge of the organization and, at the same time, builds trust.

There’s another bonus: If you embody the values you expect from your team, they are more likely to buy into your big-picture strategies down the line.

Today, our work environments are transforming faster than ever before, and it’s easy to lose sight of your organization’s infrastructure. We often hear of situations where a team feels overwhelmed and the customer is in jeopardy. As a leader, staying close to the front lines can make this less likely.

So, this month and every month, work on great relationships. Poetry, however, is optional.