Guest Post: Using “Zig-Zag Leadership” to Amplify Your Executive Presence

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I am pleased to share a guest post from my esteemed colleague and best-selling author, Suzanne Bates, who reminds us of the importance of checking in with your colleagues regularly.  She goes so far as to schedule the “spontaneous” visits that are so essential to maintaining our precious relationships. 

Using “Zig-Zag Leadership” to Amplify Your Executive Presence

By Suzanne Bates, CEO
Bates Communications

Just about every morning in the early years when I was building my business, I was the first there and the last to leave. A good part of the day I was ensconced in my office, making calls, sending notes, talking to clients, writing articles, going over sales, managing the budget. We had a small enough group that I could see everybody just by sticking my head out the door.

As an organization grows, or you take on larger roles, you notice that weeks can go by when you don’t see people. It happens so gradually that you don’t feel concerned, at first. Then you run into someone you think you haven’t seen in too long, have an interesting conversation, and wonder, “I wonder what else I don’t know.”

The conversations I’m talking about don’t happen in a room with a table, chairs, water bottles and flipcharts. They happen in the hallway, in the door of an office, in the kitchenette. And to make them happen, you have to adopt a certain mindset, one that disrupts your first instinct to make a beeline to your office. Instead of zigging, you have to zag the other way, toward other people’s offices. You might call this “Zig-Zag Leadership.”

Bates Discover Your CEO BrandThere is an art to this zagging. The first is getting over the idea that you’re interrupting. Time it so people are around. If people wave you off because they’re on the phone, move on. Most people welcome the visit. They want to tell you about the little victories, new ideas or issues. They want to hear what’s going on straight from you. It’s like gold. You almost always learn a) something you wouldn’t ever have known, b) something you would have learned too late, or c) something that could help you avoid headaches later.

I once had a boss who mastered the art of the zag. He would stop in the morning, or noon, or whenever, and just stand in the center of a room that housed dozens of cubicles. People would come over to the circle to chat, drifting in and out of the conversation. It happened at least once or twice a week. This mattered. Most of us weren’t at a level where we would be invited to his office. I think I was in there twice in five years. But this boss’s zagging style made me feel included. I had access. I got news straight from the boss. He asked me questions. My ideas mattered.

It isn’t that easy to create this atmosphere of inclusion, simply because we are all so busy. It’s also an unfortunate aspect of human nature that most of us have favorites. Trouble is, if you alienate, you will soon see people getting disengaged, and it brings the whole place down. An intentionally inclusive leader keeps that from happening by zagging. This kind of leader schedules the time and does it. They don’t punt and use the time for email, calls or crisis management.

Recently our firm dug deeply into research in order to understand executive presence and the science of influence. We wanted to develop a better idea of what makes influential leaders tick.  It turns out that executive presence is a multidimensional, multifaceted set of attributes.  The dimensions include Character, Substance, and Style.  And—lo and behold—one of the facets of style made me think of those “zagmasters” that I’ve known.  We call that facet interactivity, which includes a leader’s accessibility, frequency of interaction, timeliness, and listening skills.

When leaders are strong at this facet of executive presence, their supervisor, peers, and direct reports are more likely to feel engaged.  They know that they’re being heard and that they’re not operating in a vacuum.  And they don’t have to rely on the company grapevine because they know that they’ll have an opportunity to get the scoop through their ongoing dialog with the leader.

Once you start practicing Zig-Zag Leadership, it becomes habit and, eventually, essential. Building time for it on your calendar—and committing to it—helps ensure that it happens.  Even ten minutes a day is better than zero. When you zig back to your office, you’ll be a little smarter… and a lot more connected.

About Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates 2011 1Suzanne Bates is the bestselling business author of Discover Your CEO Brand, Speak Like a CEO, and Motivate Like a CEO (McGraw Hill). She is an executive coach to top CEOs and executives around the world. Prior to starting her firm, Bates Communications, Suzanne was an award-winning television news anchor in major markets around the country. Today, her firm helps executives and organizations achieve transformational results through powerful communications. Clients include Dow Chemical, Fidelity, Merck, State Street, Kimberly-Clark, and Raytheon. As a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), Suzanne speaks to groups large and small around the country about how to achieve results through influence and strategic communication.

Suzanne writes a popular weekly column, Thoughts for Tuesday, where she shares inspirational tips and practical strategies for leaders. Connect with Suzanne through her website,, or on Twitter: @CEOCoachBates


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