You’re kidding, right?
I already have plenty to do and now you want me to hang around and watch my employees work?
Obviously, you don’t understand the world I live in.
These are common objectives leaders I’ve coached have given me over the years when I bring up proximity.
There are, potentially, a couple of dynamics behind responses like these. The first is scope and the second is arrogance.
Of course a leader can’t be in proximity to everyone in the organization, unless the organization is very small. So, the scope of proximity coaching has to match the size of the organization. If a leader has an executive or management team, then that could be the scope of her proximity coaching. Finding the right scope makes proximity coaching sustainable. If you are trying to coach 100 people, in a variety of jobs, you are obviously giving very little value to most people. But, if you are focused on three or four or six, now you can offer something of value.
Even if you find the right scope, there is another obstacle that can kill proximity. It’s arrogance.
I’m just too important.
There is a mindset that leaders can fall into–one that kills proximity. The mindset is that somehow, because of the position, a leader just doesn’t have time to bother with the trifles of people development. What?! Can you imagine Phil Jackson making this argument? I’m just too important to come to practice or to the game. I’ll send someone else to do that. You’ve go to be kidding. Senior leaders who have a bad case of what I call the, Jabba the Hut syndrome, aren’t leaders at all. They are dictators? Meaning: They dictate rather than coach.
If a leader is going to coach, he will have to get over himself. Pride kills proximity. Not too mention the fact that people would rather have the "arrogant leader" stay home.
So, to sustain coaching:
1) You have to find the right scope
2) You have to remember you are not "above" the duty of coaching
Why is all this important: If you are you too distant, your leadership is in danger of being received as an unanchored overture that is based on secondary information, rather than insight based leadership founded on primary observation and engagement.
Of course, you can be too close to your employees as well. That’s called micro managing. But that’s for another post. Proximity coaching means that you care enough about the development of your employees to watch them perform. This means you will have to appropriately insert yourself into environments where they are working or leading. As you do this, your credibility will go up in the eyes of that employee and you just might learn new things about a part of your community or organization you had been unaware of up to that point.