After breakfast with the family down at Cronulla Beach the other week, I snapped a pic of one of the amazing pines. Flicking through the photos I’m reminded of Enid Blyton’s books about the Faraway Tree. A giant tree filled with lively characters and a changing magical world at the top. Made me think of organisational leadership teams.

I remember travelling to a regional site, about 5 hours drive from the organisation’s main office. I was running a training session and we were chatting about head office and what it was like.

“I’ve never been there or seen it,” one staff member declared. “But I know it’s by the ocean.”

Hmm. This organisation had its head office in the middle of suburbia, South Western Sydney to be a tad more exact. The ocean was a good one hour drive away. It wasn’t an exotic part of Sydney. No mansions and no Mercedes around here. It was an area where people worked hard for what they had, and there was also significant disadvantage in some parts of the community. The neighbouring suburb had large tracks of government housing and surrounding suburbs 10 minutes away crammed high numbers of immigrants into little flats.

What interested me most was the view from staff that head office were living it up among the clouds. We were in the land at the top of the tree. Occasionally someone from head office would arrive at their site and then leave again. One of the biggest gripes was they didn’t see people from head office enough, and when they did see them they didn’t feel people stopped to say hello. It’s the little things that get us every time isn’t it?

I’ve heard the same criticisms of leadership teams where they haven’t been based far away. Swan in. Swan out. It’s surprising the number of ordinary folk on the ground who couldn’t identify a member of the executive team if one appeared in front of them and said “boo.”

It’s important leadership teams don’t lose sight of the people who make the organisation. Or that people’s experience of the leadership team isn’t like a special being has landed. You know the visit. The CEO/Board/senior leader is coming so we tidy up, slap some paint on a wall, have a morning tea, and smile a lot until we lead them out the door before letting out the breath we’ve been holding waiting to see if they’ll notice what’s really going on.

How do your leaders connect with their people? How do they stay connected as the business starts to grow and people live and work in different parts of the state, country or even the world?


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