Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Two years into my first professional job as an engineer, I was promoted to Production Supervisor. The technical aspects of the job appealed to me, but I was not in tune with the leadership elements. I really blew it!

The current COVID-19 situation reminds me of this early leadership lesson:

Sid was the most senior Production Supervisor. He knew the plant like the back of his hand. One night, just before the shift change, an eager, energetic new Operator rushed into the control room, out of breath and very excited. He exclaimed, “Sid, I was on the back side of the coal pile and saw some of the coal smoldering! It’s smoldering pretty good. I think there is a fire! What should we do?” Note: Coal fires at power plants are NOT good.

Sid looked at his employee, and then Sid glanced at his watch, concerned that dealing with this new problem could take him past his normal quitting time. He asked, “Did anybody else see it?”

The young Operator answered, “No! I am the only one out there, and the fire is hard to see. I was back there making my rounds when I saw it – just like I was trained. What should we do?”

Sid looked right at the young man and said, “Out of sight, out of mind!”

Then, Sid turned and walked away, leaving the young operator standing there in the middle of the control room. All the air, the energy and the enthusiasm drained right out of that young man’s face and pooled up on the control room floor. I’m pretty sure that young Operator will never take the initiative to do something good again.

The Stakes are High

Inspired by one of my favorite leadership coaches, I wrote this to expand on Dr. Graham’s latest blog series on managing remotely.

I worry that with so many people working remotely and being out of sight, managers will fall into the “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” approach to leadership.

The Rest of the Story

How did I know what happened that night at the shift change? Because my crew often relieved Sid’s crew, and I watched the whole thing happen.

What did I do? Nothing.

Sure, I had my Operator go look at the coal pile and put out the fire as soon as our shift started, but I should have stepped in and addressed the “out of sight, out of mind” comment.

Why didn’t I? Because I was not mentally present! I was not thinking about the real leadership issue at play in the moment.

Mentally Present

Good leaders are mentally present. They are in tune with what is going on around them. They don’t check out. Just because something (or someone) is out of sight does not mean it is out of mind.

Sid’s behavior was not representative of most of the supervisor interactions at that plant. However, just a single one of those bad encounters can derail 40 good supervisor interactions.

It was not the last time in my career that I saw supervisors or managers deflate the dreams, incentives or enthusiasm of their employees. “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” leadership will do exactly that. When a leader is not mentally present, it deflates good employees.

COVID-19 Leadership

When you are with your team – whatever that looks like today – are you mentally present? Employees and problems may not be in your physical sight during this time, but that doesn’t mean they should be out of your mind.”

What are you doing right now to keep people “in sight” and “on your mind”?

When we get back to the new normal, what will you do to make sure you are not an “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” leader?

Want to be a better leader and more “present” person after COVID-19 restrictions subside?

I’ll send the first 10 people who ask A FREE COPY of “Must Be Present To Win.”

Send me an email at Doug@DougSterbenz.com

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