All Leadership is Local
I went to a baseball game last week. I came home broke.
I love baseball. I can watch any Major League game any time of year, no matter who is playing. I have a goal to (eventually) get to all the stadiums and to enjoy a tasty beer and meal at each one.
Luckily for me, Nashville is home to a minor league team and a (nearly) brand new ballpark. My dad has season tickets and he tosses me some every now and then. I went to my first game of the season last week (a noonday start - day games on grass are the purest form of this sport) and was appalled by the prices for said tasty beer and meal.
A local craft beer is now $9 a pour. And the city's signature dish, hot chicken, will run you $10. Welcome to the (small) big leagues, folks.
In an effort to combat this atrocity, I thought I'd write to the ownership to let them know of their crime against humanity. As I did, I uncovered an awful truth: the ownership isn't local. One lives in New York and the other in London. A $19 lunch at a game is a steal for them.
Oh, I'm sure they're involved in team operations from afar. Of course, if that's the case, the only way they're informing their decisions is via a spreadsheet. I imagine their annual meetings go something like this:
"Hey Masahiro, how were concession sales last year?"
"Stellar, Frank. We killed it in the chicken and beer game."
"Nice. What happens if we tweak those prices?"
"Excellent question. We'll make a killing. We'll drop a lot more cash to the bottom line. What are you thinking?"
"Bump up beers a few bucks and the chicken by a dollar."
"But what if the consumer doesn't like that and doesn't enjoy the game as much? Do we have a duty to provide an enjoyable experience even if we're not maximizing our returns? Do you think we have a role to support this community in some entertaining way?"
"What? I can't hear you, these stacks of money are in the way."
Maybe that wasn't the exact conversation, but I truly believe that when leaders are absent from the context and people of their operation, they are not leading at all. For this reason, all leadership is local because all leadership takes place in a certain place with certain people.
Context, space, time - all of this combines to inform our sense of place as a leader. Where we are (physically), when we're available, what is actually happening on the floors of our stores and factories - when leaders don't have a tangible or intimate knowledge of this, their capacity to lead authentically diminishes.
I try to be at our near our retail store at Batch nearly every day I'm in town. I'm also very mindful that I need to get out of the way of our team who is doing great things there. But, I have no right to make a suggestion that can improve the bottom line or increase efficiency if I have no clue how to process an in-store transaction, what it's like to count inventory each month, or speak with vendors when they drop off their fabulous products.
Leadership doesn't occur remotely. Sure, telecommuting is a thing and our connected world allows more people to do great things from anywhere they want. But, leadership still has a very localized element to it, meaning that people need to connect, breathing in deeply the day-in and day-out of the businesses they run so they know intimately what it's like to work, succeed, and fail in the company's particular context.
Arms-length leadership is not leadership at all. (click here to tweet this)
Your company is not comprised of jobs. It's made up of people. Don't forget this. To do so causes great harm to everyone in your organization.
Simon Sinek discusses this in his book, Leaders Eat Last. Sinek calls this abstraction - the art of reducing people (humans) to spreadsheet data. He says this is why layoffs are easy and frequent. Leaders don't think about the real people they're putting out of work. They're only looking at a dollar figure and how big they can make it by reducing jobs and labor.
In the last year, I've had to let three people go at Batch. I had never had to do that in my life before. In each situation, the business level could not support the expense of a salary. Every time I had to have that tough conversation, I lost sleep. I was stressed out. The conversations occupied my mind for weeks. I rehearsed and rehearsed. I knew that I wasn't just saving money. I was forcing someone to go look for work. We were asking someone to leave our Batch family. I was sad.
This, of course, happens in work. We can't afford people in certain areas. I'm proud that my leadership team and I - as a small and strapped startup - tried very hard to keep these people. But eventually, to do so would be detrimental to the other areas of our company, costing even more people their jobs.
So, hard decisions need to be made time and again by leaders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and boards. But when they happen, the best leaders always remember a shared humanity above a singular bottom line. (click here to tweet this)
I have no idea if concession prices will decrease for my Sounds. But I do know I'll buy fewer beers this year. I'll suggest to fewer friends that we meet up to watch the boys play throw and catch. And of course I'll be hoping that leaders everywhere can remember that whether you run a small coffee shop or a thriving multinational corporation, all leadership is local. (It always has been.)