Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.


October 2007
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Archive for October 3rd, 2007

Leading by Driving Around

Managing by Walking Around (MBWA) is certainly not a new idea and at its core it is pretty basic. But it never ceases to amaze me how few people do this well and how complicated some people try to make this. I once saw a 26 page instuction manual for managers of a certain business……complete with cute little graphics on how the flow of information was supposed to happen. (I am not making this up.)

Well, an effective leader would boil that manual down to one sentence, “Get the hell out of your office every day and listen to somebody.”

And this is absolutely essential for people in the rural world. It’s way too easy for anyone to get caught in the office ‘trap’. Believe me I know. I’ve always struggled with this and I don’t think I’m alone. That pile of paperwork on the upper left hand corner of the desk is screaming for attention and we try to make ourselves feel better by saying that making a couple of phone calls will be a practical substitute for actually visiting with someone face-to-face.

This can be even more daunting to folks in rural areas. After all, we’re not talking about a five minute trip down the hall or a quick visit to the shop floor. We’re talking about getting in the car and travelling somewhere. We’re talking time. But in a rural area this investment of time may be the most important investment you can make.

Couple of thoughts on how the make this investment pay off.

1.) Make it a habit….Put it on the schedule or it won’t happen on a regular basis. And once a month doesn’t cut it. Once a week should be your minimum.

2.) Talk to someone…..don’t just do a drive by of the business park or downtown. Park the car and talk with someone. If the person you decide to see is too busy to talk with you, respect that and go on to someone else.

3.) Introduce yourself to someone new…..Don’t just visit with your regular contacts. Yes, you need to visit the mayor or village president but don’t forget about that new council or board member. Or how about the owner of that new business that opened up since you last were in town. Every one of those folks has a unique and likely ‘fresh’ perspective on what is happening and what needs to happen in that community.

You’re going to learn a lot and it will all be current information. Beats the heck out of the statistics you will get from the state 18 months from now.

Hey, a better title for this post might have been, “LEARNING by driving around.”