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"When senior leaders make time to spend with their people or make insightful decisions that are sensitive to the front line, they get a bazillion credibility bonus points. The result is an engaged and loyal workforce."
December 2013

I don't usually have much time to watch TV, but I am a big fan of CBS's Undercover Boss where executive leaders are featured as they try to re-engage with their frontline workers while working alongside them, incognito, as supposed trainees and newbies. The Emmy-award-winning reality TV series, averaging 17.7 million viewers, offers a treasure trove of stories of leaders who have lost touch with the frontline experience after too many years away from it, or perhaps never having been connected to it in the first place. This month's article asks, "How in touch are you?"


 All the best,  



Losing Touch with the Frontline Experience 


How aware are you of what matters to the front line? Is your "open door" policy something you say or do people really take you up on it? Even the best senior leaders can find themselves sealed off from the company's day-to-day realities, whether it's because employees need an appointment or a badge to visit the corporate offices, a receptionist defensively manages the calendar, or the leader's door really is always closed, literally or figuratively.


Whether it's the bank teller, factory worker, window washer, driller in the oil field, or the employee packaging products in the distribution center, there are frontline workers powering businesses around the globe. These individuals are touching your product or delivering your service every day, often interacting with your customers, shaping their opinions about your brand and securing their future buying choices. Leaders may also be disconnected from how their decisions and what they pay attention to impact the people on the front line. For example, what might seem like a simple decision to reduce costs by eliminating the perk of company cell phones for certain employees could have a big impact on operations and morale. 

It's easy to lose touch when you are occupied with management meetings, commitments at the home office, or have no process in place for a "day in the life" experience.  The goal is to stay connected in a way that keeps you informed so you have a read on where you can make effective changes and how to deliver them. Like a chess game in which you become able to look into the future, staying connected to your front line helps you envision the consequences of your decisions before your next move so you can elicit what you hope for and avoid the baggage of unintended outcomes.



            When leaders fall out of touch with the frontline experience, and fail to check in with the troops on a regular basis, negative consequences can easily happen. For example:

  1. Valuable information on how the company can improve and increase its competitive advantage may get missed because it's often the front line where these issues are most evident. This is also where the greatest ideas are typically born.

  2. Poor decisions are made because leaders cannot adequately anticipate the ripple effect of their decisions or behavior.

  3. Leaders lose credibility with the workforce. People lose confidence in their leaders and question whether to follow them because they believe they have no clue what is really going on in the company.


Losing touch with your front line, or even being perceived that way due to a lack of visibility, is a surefire way to lose both your credibility and your employee loyalty.


The Battle of Ego vs EQ


When it might be easy to say, "I'm too busy to spend time on the factory floor" or "I feel uncomfortable taking off my suit and making sandwiches next to my entry-level employees," EQ says "I want to spend time with the folks on the ground floor so I can get to know what they and the organization really need" or "It's okay to operate out of my element because in order to grow I need to do things that stretch my abilities and connect me to new areas of my business." You might be thinking, "They make sandwiches; how hard is that?", "I'm too busy," or "I've earned this," EQ says, "How can I make the lives of my employees better now that I finally have the influence and resources to make it happen?"


You can stay in touch by leveraging your 

emotional intelligence:

  • Recognize the perception of you with your employee base. Ask yourself how long it has been since you have spent time doing the jobs they do every day. While some distance is natural, and sometimes unavoidable, recognizing opportunities to get in touch is the first step toward bridging the gap.
  • Read what frontline employees really need through their spoken and unspoken cues, (use empathy). Frontline workers may not provide outright feedback, but by asking them questions that reflect sincere interest, a connection can be established and invaluable perspective will be shared with you. These grateful employees are more than likely to pass on word of this positive experience with you too, and many other similarly rewarding moments will follow.
  • Respond with appreciation for the efforts of your frontline workers and be as specific as possible. Even if you learn information that is difficult to hear, exercise self-control and keep your focus on their needs. When the stakes are high and employees dare to share with you, they deserve respect and appreciation. When you make others feel seen, heard, and valued you will unleash performance in them like you never thought possible.


Self-control gives you the discipline you need to shape your actions for the good of others; self-awareness and empathy give you the insight you need to make conscious decisions and to take sensitive actions. As a leader your role is to bring the front line closer to you, not to allow yourself to drift-or push-too far away from it.


This article is an summary excerpt from Ego vs EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps Using Emotional Intelligence. Click here to order a copy of the book.