The Top Performer’s Field Guide: Invisible Walls

“It makes a difference, doesn’t it, whether we fence ourselves in or whether we are fenced out by the barriers of others?” -E.M. Foster

One burden of leadership is that invisible walls can exist between ourselves and our team members. Some of these barriers we can understand and work to limit. We use the sledgehammers of encouragement, professional development, and public recognition to reach out to our team. However, there are some walls that we might not recognize due to organizational policy. As stewards of our respective businesses, we are honor-bound to follow the various policies and procedures of the organization. Those very guidelines, however, might be creating walls you never imagined existed.

Imagine your company issues credit cards to the leadership for travel expenses. The practice is common enough for those who frequently travel, and you might take the practice for granted. How does your company handle travel expenses for team members that don’t often go in the field? If your company requires those without a credit card to “front” the funds for the travel expenses and then submit for reimbursement later, there could be a wall that’s invisible to you. In this reimbursable model, sundry travel expenses come out of your associate’s pocket. The associate then must wait for the applicable reimbursement period to recoup those funds. That associate has basically loaned the company money. You, on the other hand, have a credit card, and not a penny of expenses comes from your personal piggy bank. There’s an invisible wall that can cause resentment due to no fault of your own.

The easy path is to let those institutional invisible walls exist by using the standby “that’s what they want upstairs, so that’s what we’ve got to work with.” If that’s your stance when an invisible wall turns bright red in front of your eyes, you’re a figurehead and not a leader. Leaders address team concerns up the ladder with tact and decorum. Your team will let you know where those invisible walls exist if you take a moment to listen to them.

Invisible Walls Accelerators

  • Create a regular and consistent process whereby you meet with all of your team members to hear what’s on their minds–no real agenda other than to ask them a series of open-ended questions about themselves, the workplace, their work, and for feedback about how things are running.
  • Take notes to capture important points about the discussion. After meeting with everyone, create a list of “themes” or items that need to be addressed up the chain, down the chain, and across the group.
  • Build a plan to drive a positive impact in your team and the organization as a result of this gold mine of feedback.