Snip a page from this songbook

One of the smartest business operators I ever met played the piano. At work. More about her later.

A few weeks ago I read an article about leadership in Investors Business Daily. It asked leaders if they kept in close touch with their customers.

IBD urged leaders to phone key customers or clients. To thank them for their business. And to ask them about any problems. To ask them for ideas.

The article suggested that executives visit customer locations. Visit their stores. Or their factories. Or their offices. Get a feel for the environment in which they operate.

This advice pertains to leaders of all stripes. To those in public office. To those who run charities and universities and hospitals. To those who run shops and factories alike.

When I was a young copywriter at an ad agency, someone kicked me out on the street. “You’re writing advertising for your clients’products. Go to the shops that sell those products. Talk to the staff who deal with the customers. Talk with the customers. If you are writing advertising for a travel agency, ask to sit in when their agents meet with customers.”

In other words, get as close to the action as you can. Do that, if you want to do a better job.

Smart leaders get close to the action on their own turf. No matter how big or small the organizations, they talk with their employees. They constantly ask them what is working, what is not. What are the bosses doing that is good? What do they do that is stupid?

Management guru/author Tom Peters called this Management By Walking Around. He told us how various smart leaders employed it.

Meanwhile, if there is one trait that most poor leaders share, it is a failure to walk around. A failure to get close to customers and clients. A failure to talk with and listen to their employees. Instead, they rely on reports from others. And too often those reports are self-serving. They protect the status quo.

Too many of those poor leaders perch themselves on pedestals. Above the fray, the politics, the petty crises. Up where the air is rarefied they do the heavy lifting and make the big decisions. They would make better ones if they spent time in the workers’ cafeteria. Or talking with customers.

Now to the piano player.

I once ate at a fine restaurant in Sioux Falls. Owned by a lovely woman.

She loved to play the piano. And she played it well. Played standards, show tunes, light classical pieces.

She positioned her grand piano at a strategic spot in the restaurant. By the door.

Customers had to stand near her until the maitre’d greeted them. She used the opportunity to ask what music they would like to hear. If they were regulars she caught up with their news. She sang the praises of that night’s specials. All the while, she played on.

From her spot she watched and heard the maitre’d at his work. She watched the doors to and from the kitchen. Watched her waiters and waitresses.

From her piano she also looked out on the tables. She kept an eye out for poor service. For frowns or smiles from customers. For signs of impatience if orders ran late.

All the customers had to pass by her when they left. Of course she asked them about the food, about the service. Thanked them. Invited them back.

Hers was the perfect location. It was in the center of her business. In that location she constantly took in vital information she needed to run that business well. And for four hours she got to do something she loved. She made music while she made money.

Smart woman. A lot of leaders would do well to snip a page from her song book.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

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