The Visible Leader

Global collaboration and internal communications consultant Kate Isichei gives her tips on how to improve leadership visibility at your organization.
What we'll cover

What do the words leadership visibility mean to you?

Is it a lone wolf standing at the top of a hill raised up above the masses or is the usual visual that pops into your mind more nuanced?

Leadership usually conjures up thoughts of the very pinnacle of corporate hierarchies. The CEO, and his or her c-suite.

Those who run the company or who are tasked with running it.

Then there are leaders who are less symbolic and more down to earth leaders like team managers and supervisors. The everyday people managers.

What about their visibility? They also need to be seen and heard but also available to see and hear from their people that they’re tasked with looking after.

That, for me, is at the heart of leadership visibility.

What does leadership visibility equate to?

The accountability and responsibility for a group of people and their ability to have a positive experience during the time they are affiliated with your organization.

Visibility equates to being both visible so people can see leaders and also accessible so employees can gain access to interact with leaders in a meaningful way.

In a 2019 Salesforce research report it was found that when employees feel heard they are over four times more likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of their abilities.

To give it their all or exercise that discretionary effort that can make the difference between good and excellent. Of course, it matters how this is done and informality can create a more comfortable environment for both leaders and their people to interact.

Leadership visibility relies on making yourself easily accessible.

What does leadership visibility look like?

For example, if you organize a breakfast session where a leader makes themselves available for 45 minutes and you provide breakfast treats and hot beverages, that could be deemed as a formal gathering.

I have organized a few such sessions and found, in some cases, that there was a level of reluctance to participate. Why should this be? I would say it was cultural as well as the event type.

A breakfast session cannot, in of itself, change a culture or create a welcoming one that provides a safe environment where employees want to be seen, listened to, and heard by their leaders.

That willingness to have conversations with leaders is key.

The role of culture

If an organisation’s culture doesn’t permit or encourage connections with leaders or where they are cordoned off, no amount of breakfast sessions, walk the floors or town hall Q&As will fix this.

In this instance, the toxicity would need to be addressed before any activities could successfully come to fruition. So, it’s less a case of visibility and more a case of authentic visibility.

An approach that aligns visibility programmes with an organisation’s culture. If your managers are having regular conversations with their teams as part of business-as-usual activities, then you’re halfway into the journey of engaging employees through visible leadership.

Managers are key to making unconcealed leadership a success.

The persona of a visible leader

What do accessible leaders look like?

They are personality-driven and offer a heady combination of charisma, capability, intelligence, and social skills that culminates in a person who makes others feel at ease, relaxed, empowered and emboldened to have their say.

Not to say that quiet leaders cannot elicit the same reaction.

It’s less about being extroverted and more about being confident in one’s own skin to give others the assurance that they can do the same without fear of retaliation in response to the sharing of candid views.

Mutual respect is crucial which again is largely driven by culture .

If everyone knows they are in an environment that actively promotes transparency, then leaders can be authentically visible and encourage employees to respond positively to this visibility without viewing this access with suspicion.