Leadership

How Leaders Can Avoid Ivory Tower Syndrome

Most managers don’t intentionally set out looking to become disconnected. But it certainly happens.

“Ivory tower syndrome” is a real thing, and employees are quick to notice it. It happens when leaders become out of touch with the people they manage. They forget what life is like in the trenches. They spend all of their time with other leaders and, sooner or later, they can no longer relate to the day-to-day struggles of their team.

When this happens, leaders are in a dangerous position. They become isolated from the actual business and, as a result, they’re more inclined to make bad decisions. Their limited perspective and narrow focus can make them lose sight of reality. Without resolution, this problem can create a massive divide between leaders and employees.

To avoid these disastrous outcomes, leaders should take active steps to stay connected with their people and the work they’re doing. Here are some suggestions to do just that.

Be Physically Present

Too often, leaders spend the majority of their time outside of the office, traveling or simply working off-site. Then, when they are present, they remain hidden away in conference rooms or behind closed doors.

Your team wants to physically see you—and you need to physically see them. You can’t pick up on the overall “vibe” in the office over the phone or through email. That’s only possible in person. When you’re regularly present, you’re able to observe behaviors, body language, facial expressions and more. Often these things communicate more about what’s happening for the team than words ever could.

Walk & Talk

Physical presence isn’t enough; you also need to interact. The old “walk and talk” method is effective even in its simplicity. Stroll the corridors and spend time connecting with people.

Sit down with team members—at their desks—and ask them to show you what’s working and what’s not. Let them demonstrate their concerns, challenges and victories. Try to experience what their world looks and feels like, even if only for a few minutes at a time.

The goal here is not to hover over their shoulders and make them feel on display. You’re just trying to see things from their perspective, as unobtrusively as possible.

Do the Work

Nothing keeps you connected like rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty on occasion. As a leader, you undoubtedly want (and need) to delegate many of the things that cross your desk each day. After all, that’s what your team is there for. But don’t let yourself get so far away from the work that it starts to feel foreign. You might not be an individual contributor anymore—and you might not be an expert in all areas—but experiencing the work from this level will help you better understand what your team faces each day. Jump into the fray and participate from time to time, and you’ll also remind your team that you’re one of them.

Leaders do, indeed, hold higher rank in the organizational hierarchy, but they shouldn’t shield themselves from the people below. Perched inside an ivory tower, they quickly lose touch with the reality of business. Stay “right sized,” remember where you came from and don’t neglect the people who make your job necessary.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.