Being a manager is difficult because it feels unnatural. Your job isn’t actually to get work done. You’re doing your job as a manager when what you’re doing doesn’t resemble work at all.
To Andy Grove, legendary CEO of Intel, a manager’s fundamental work of information gathering can be among the most unnatural and that awkwardness is a necessary part of being a leader. Information gathering is the bread and butter of a manager’s work, but doing it effectively can mean making yourself vulnerable to looking and feeling like you’re doing nothing.
Grove instructs managers that “[t]here is an especially efficient way to get information, much neglected by most managers” that is underutilized “because of the awkwardness that managers feel about [it].” That is, be out in the open in your company, doing nothing.
Why should you do this? Think of what happens when somebody comes to see a manager in his office. A certain stop-and-start dynamics occurs when the visitor sits down, something socially dictated. While a two-minute kernel of information is exchanged, the meeting often takes a half hour. But if a manager walks through an area and sees a person with whom he has a two-minute concern, he can simply stop, cover it, and be on his way.
Making yourself available to casual information exchange is vital to information gathering, because it lowers the barriers to conversation and takes ceremony out of the exchange. Grove suggests a stroll around the office, “walking through an area without a specific task in mind.”
Ironically, this is sometimes why the most driven people struggle as leaders. They’re so focused on setting an example for their team of getting stuff done that they’re totally unavailable for conversation. Their team members are afraid to interrupt them, and information exchange becomes more of an event or more of a report.
Verbal sources of information, to Grove, are “the most valuable,” so it’s absolutely vital that leaders make time for it, even if it means doing what’s akin to standing alone at a party, phone in pocket, open and vulnerable.
It’s awkward because it’s plain uncomfortable, and counterintuitive to a busy manager because being open, out in the open, seems more of a passive attitude rather than an action to be done. But ultimately, without first gathering information from all possible sources, it’s impossible to be an effective leader. Take a note from Grove:
It’s obvious that your decision-making depends finally on how well you comprehend the facts and issues facing your business. This is why information gathering is so important in a manager’s life. Other activities—conveying information, making decisions, and being a role model for your subordinates—are all governed by the base of information that you, the manager, have about the tasks, the issues, the needs, and the problems facing your organization. In short, information gathering is the basis of all other managerial work, which is why I choose to spend so much of my day doing it.