How To Manage By Walking Around

By Greg Martin

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Managing by walking around helps organizations to be successful. Companies must have people that effectively run and operate them as they strive to grow and achieve their business goals. In business, that means meeting the bottom line, which is to make money.

Effective leadership and leadership skills development is a key ingredients to businesses in achieving their bottom line. Leaders must take an interest in their own professional development and those they lead.

If you are not committed to professional development, your customers will soon become your competitor’s customers.

The Peter Principle

A person may be assigned the role of the leader, and in some cases, it may have been given to them through family ownership or by promotion due to success in their current position. In these cases, it is possible the leader is not effective in leading the team, group, business, or even themselves.

They may have even fallen into the “Peter Principle” (promoted or placed in a leadership position beyond their competency).

I have witnessed scenarios in which the company outgrew the leader’s level of competency. We would like to believe the person chosen to lead the team or organization has demonstrated the leadership skills or leadership qualities needed to lead.

Regardless of what the case may be that landed the leader in that position, if you want to evaluate how the leader is doing and if they are effective, look at the following six areas:

  • How is the team performing?
  • How are they treating each other?
  • Are the people growing or developing?
  • Under their current leadership, has the team’s performance improved?
  • How are they treating their customers?
  • Are the people following the leader?

Taking a closer look over time proves to be very telling.

MBWA Creates A Happy Team

Emotional Intelligence

How the leader affects the team and its overall performance are critical. To get employees to follow them, the leader must know and understand who they are as a person.

Learning and mastering the traits of Emotional Intelligence (EI) is useful in leading people and organizations.

The four elements of Emotional Intelligence created by Daniel Goleman in 1990 are:

  • Self-awareness. The ability to know and read emotions.
  • Self-management. The ability to identify, manage and handle one’s emotions.
  • Social-awareness. The ability to recognize and understand the feelings of others.
  • Relationship management. The ability to manage teams and conflict to improve and drive employee performance.

According to Goleman, having emotional competence is what enhances our personal, relational, and professional performance. It is also what ultimately helps us attain an overall increase in our quality of life.

Emotional Competence is a learned ability grounded in Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is a little more complicated than what I have provided here, but if you want to strengthen your skillset and your ability to lead others, I encourage you to learn more about EI.


In any business, leaders will need to manage both vertically and horizontally within the organizational chart. Managing by Walking Around (MBWA) is one way of helping managers get a “vibe” of how the organization is operating and how the people are doing that work within them.

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard mastered the MBWA management practice in 1973. They showed genuine feelings and emotions towards those doing the work and believed that people wanted to do a good job.

Their decentralized management approach was the opposite of drive-by-management, or of the martyr manager who rides in to save the day, not to be seen again until there was another crisis.

Hewlett and Packard took a great deal of interest in their employee stakeholders by getting them to feel as if they were valued and that the work they performed was meaningful and important to the company. Their congenial approach towards their employees was very effective leadership.

MBWA Takes Time

Too Much Time?

In my discussion with some managers or supervisors, they are at times reluctant to practice this model. They have shared excuses like, “if I do not see it, then there is not a problem,” “I’m not here to be liked,” or “it takes up too much time.”

Yes, there is some truth to “if I do not see it, then there is not a problem.” However, the downside of thinking that way is if your direct reports do not ever see or hear from you unless there is a problem, then it is a massive problem that you do see.

Fundamentally, people are not hired to be liked, and I have never read in a job description that “being liked” was a requirement. However, I have read in job descriptions that managers should effectively lead and build positive work relationships with those they lead.

MBWA can help accomplish this for you, and your direct reports may even grow to like you as a person, not solely because you are their manager. In response to “it takes too much time,” my experience is employees do not want to have long, drawn-out conversations with their bosses.

Certainly, if someone is having a problem, either on the job or personally, you must make time to listen and provide possible solutions if needed or solicited. As managers or leaders, we often want to fix things. Do not forget that sometimes all we need to do is listen to the employee.

Being Visible

In my personal experience, I have found employees are just grateful that you are visible.

Learn to acknowledge your staff in very simple ways, such as a simple greeting, giving a pat on the back, a handshake, saying “thank you,” or sharing phrases of kindness. These simple acts can go a long way with your direct reports.

MBWA works best when you are genuinely interested in employees, and the work they are doing. Your employees can tell if you lack sincerity, and they can also tell when you have the interest to listen and they trust that you will.

MBWA works best when you are genuinely interested in employees and the work they are doing. Your employees can tell if you lack sincerity, and they can also tell when you have an interest in listening, and they trust that you will.

Even 33 years later, MBWA is an effective skill that leaders should not only use but is consistently needed to take their business or organization to the next level. View MBWA as a management tool to help you become more effective, not to cause you more work or to burden you.

MBWA sounds like Leadership 101, but just like anything, if it is not consistently practiced, which oftentimes it is not, it will not be effective.

Employees Must Trust Their Leaders

If the leader’s words or actions are out of step with each other, employees will not trust or want to perform at their highest level.

Workers want to know that those leading them are ethical and that their integrity is intact. The leaders’ actions speak louder than their words. If a leader is not seen as credible in the eyes of the employee, this will affect organizational performance.

Remember, as the leader, someone is always watching you to see how you act. Organizational leaders must avoid being self-serving and putting their needs before others. Employees will follow and trust leaders that demonstrate effective leadership and ethical behavior. They will actively oppose those leaders who have demonstrated unethical and ineffective behavior.

The importance of understanding how leadership at every level affects organizational performance is very important. Supervisors, managers, and leaders must understand the dynamics of the company, their own emotions, and what makes or allows its members to operate at the highest level.

Supervising employees now requires more skill and the ability to build positive work relationships with others both inside and outside the organization. The organization does not move forward if the leadership does not develop, lead, and model the way.

How Can MBWA Help Leadership Skills?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Greg Martin
Greg Martin
Greg works for Sedgwick County Department of Corrections and owns Martin Leadership & Management Development. He is a U.S. Army veteran & holds a MS in Leadership and Management from Friends University.
  • As someone who learned MBWA from HP I can vouch for it’s effectiveness. People know you when you wander by, they make eye contact even if there is an issue, and they are not afraid to engage you in a conversation about problems big or small. Key is for you to believe in it and your people will too. One of the most often overlooked aspects of MBWA is that people need to feel that they work with you NOT for you. Taling about everything abd anything breaks down that barrier.

  • David McCuistion says:

    Great article Greg. Thanks Dr. Whitaker for positing it.

    I am drawn to the skill you address in Emotional Intelligence, that being “Emotional Competence.” Knowing and being able to master the skill associated with EI is of the greatest value in maintaining relationships with employees.

    You don’t hear much about MWBA anymore, but I know from my Navy days that it is a valuable leadership practice. I had some great conversations about my people just by taking a little time with them; not about the job, but about them.

    Dale Carnegie said that, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” I have found that it works the same with your employees.

    Thanks again.

  • Greg Martin says:

    David – Great feedback and my first exposure to MBWA was in the military. You quoted by Carnegie is right on task. When you make it about your employees and give the credit away you will always have followers. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Greg Martin says:

    Bob – Its ironic that when business leaders try to avoid tlaking about problems with thier employees, the employees already know what the problems are and most likely have the best solutions. I have also found that its better to be forthright and honest about current and potential problems, or someone will make them up. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Barry McGhee says:

    Great article Greg. MBWA is definitely a concept that should be practiced in the organization. It has become just another topic in management class rather than a discipline.

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