Leadership Spotlight

You Cannot Lead from Behind Your Desk

Stock image of a group of employees have a discussion in an atrium-type atmosphere.

In the natural progression up the leadership ladder, increasing demands require more time addressing administrative tasks from behind the desk. Also true, ironically, the higher you go in an organization, the more time you should spend out and about engaging and interacting with your people—this often is referred to as Management by Walking Around.1

I increasingly observe persons in positions of leadership who seek to lead from behind their desks. This “fairy tale” does not work in reality. Making decisions about your organization without understanding what actually is happening with the “boots on the ground” can be deadly to agency morale. This leads to illogical and often baseless decisions out of touch with the needs and expectations of the personnel who we rely on to drive the mission of the organization.

If you think you can lead from behind your desk, let me assure you that you cannot. Leadership is about followership. When no one follows, you might just be out for a walk! Leaders need to remain visible so their followers can have confidence in the direction of the agency. Engaged and accessible leaders are in a position to build trust and confidence—the fuel that makes organizations soar.

Attempting to lead from behind your desk guarantees that you will be out of touch with what happens around you. This often leads to organizational paralysis, commonly known as “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” a time-consuming and fruitless endeavor.

Leaders need to be out and about, talking with their people and, more important, listening to the personnel around them. This ensures that people understand the direction of the organization and that the mission can be accomplished. It also gives personnel reassurance that you hold general interest in and care about them. Be assured, your people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care!

Do not get stuck behind the curtain! Get out from behind your desk and lead your people! 

John Forquer, an instructor in the Faculty Affairs and Development Unit at the FBI Academy and a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. 


1 Jack E. Enter, Ph.D., author and leadership presenter, http://jackenter.com (accessed July 26, 2013); for information on the concept of Management by Walking Around, see http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_72.htm (accessed July 26, 2013).