Advanced Leadership – The Disappearing Act

As a manager first starting out, I learned an effective, easy method to increase staff productivity: “Managing by Walking Around.” While this is a great method to keep in your leadership utility belt, to evolve from manager to leader, it is necessary to mix in different tactics. First, I will explain “Managing by Walking Around,” and then I will describe its equally important counterpart: “Leading by Disappearing.”


Managing by Walking Around

Most successful managers are either taught this method, or figure it out from common sense and observation, early on. It is extremely simple, effective, and easy to see immediate results by doing this.

The principle is simple:

  • You are the boss.
  • Employees want the boss to think that they are doing a good job.
  • By you merely being present in front of employees, they will work harder.

Simple enough, right? In the rare instance when a person does not want the boss to think that they are doing a good job, you should probably reconsider that individual’s employment status. It’s one issue if an employee does not do well, it’s an entirely different issue if an employee just does not care at all. This is all assuming that this is a decent place to work, has a successful culture, and that you are not a complete asshole…

So, simply being visible to employees will improve productivity. However, the real benefit from this method is when you actually engage with the staff:

  • Ask them questions.
  • If you see any mistakes, this is a perfect opportunity to immediately correct.
  • If you see any positives, this is a perfect opportunity to praise an employee (remember: praise publicly, correct privately).
  • Use this time as a chance to reiterate the overall vision or important factors that affect the business.
  • Do role-play scenarios that challenge them by seeing how they would react to a variety of obstacles.
  • Teach, teach, teach! “This is what to do when x happens. This is why we do it like that.”

By being present, you’ll make your staff more effective, but only for the duration of your presence. You cannot always be everywhere, which is why you engage with the staff during your “visits.” You encourage them, correct any errors, start having them buy-in to the vision, and prepare them for situations when you will not be available.

It is necessary to engage with the staff in this way, in order for your staff to start wanting to do things the right way. Managers improve productivity by staying involved. Leaders improve productivity and develop staff by convincing them that the “right” way is best (regardless of if you are there or not).

See the difference? A manager gets short-term results by successfully getting the team to be more effective, because the staff wants to do a good job. A leader gets long-term results by successfully getting the team to be more effective, because the staff wants to do the right thing. A leader’s role is to prepare the team for independence. A leader will create more leaders among the staff, by setting expectations, encouraging positive behavior, and most importantly making employees believe in what they are doing.


Leading by Disappearing

Now that you are engaging, role-playing the unexpected, and instilling the vision to the staff on a regular basis, you are ready for some “advanced” methods. The “Disappearing Act” is one of my all time favorites. I have found it to be extremely effective in developing new leaders, as well as getting a reality check to just how effective your team really is.

As I said, please do not attempt this until you are already doing those things above. Otherwise, you are only setting up your team for failure.

It’s a bit more than just disappearing:

  • Be spontaneous.
  • Go out the front door… come back in the back door 15 minutes later.
  • Have a minimal schedule and don’t even follow it.
  • Call and say that you’ll be there in 45 minutes. Walk in the door 5 minutes later.
  • Show up 5 hours late for work.

“That sounds like a terrible boss!” No. Remember that as a leader, you have a different role to play in the big scheme of things. Your “lack of reliability” is irrelevant, because it is not your job to make the staff better when you are there. It is your job to make the staff better all the time, regardless of who is in the building.

By combining these two methods, you will slowly start to develop leaders out of the staff. You will see who takes responsibility and “keeps it going” in your absence. That’s what I would have done, when I was just starting out. That is the sign of a natural leader.

You know that they aren’t just acting perfect when you are around and slacking off the rest of the time. If you do not believe that there are employees exactly like that, you are blinded to reality. What better way to test their credibility than by seeing how they act when you are not there.

FYI: nothing destroys employee morale more than when one of these two-faced, suckups get wrongfully promoted. Plus, do you really want to promote someone like that?

11 thoughts on “Advanced Leadership – The Disappearing Act”

  1. Nice post.
    It reminds me something called as “multiplier leadership” that i came across in a post titled “Are you a genius or genius maker”


    1. Exactly.

      I always ask as I develop leaders:

      You can do it, but can you teach it?

      A true leader can innovate themselves out of the need for themselves. Leaders create more leaders, Managers create followers.

      My goal is always to make someone as good or better than myself. It’s never lead to anything, but recruiters bombarding me and better opportunities. Plus, I did it by improving someone else.

      My challenge now is to prove senior leaders in the field of technological product development that I can do the exact same thing (because creating and innovating products to make live’s easier is what drives me, not money, and definitely not power). However, being an engineer does not suit me.

      How I’m going to make dramatic impact is by understanding how people think (perceptiveness), knowing what will be possible in the future with technology and how society is changing (foresight), and enhancing or conceptualizing products that use technology to make people’s lives better (imagination).

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yep. The best leaders can create use a combination of understanding human behavior, developing ppl to their fullest potential, and actually innovating themselves out of being needed. Old school management was anti-this mentality, because “if you make your number 2 as good as you, that takes away job security.”

      Unfortunately, that still happens in companies today, but those are the same companies that struggle with scaling while remaining innovative, and adapting to changing times.

      Smart companies promote the guy who taught someone (with not nearly as much experience), to do the same with others. Dropping by to check on how the protege is doing, advising them, and when they are ready: start teaching what the “next level” requires.

      That’s how innovative companies stay innovative. Not cocky, just pure truth: I’m great at innovating. But as I move up and the company grows, my ability to be innovative declines. You have to “leave yourself behind” in the systems, culture, and development of leaders.

      Flash forward ten years:

      The most innovative company in the world has become unimaginative, unadaptable, and behind the times…


      As the company scaled, the one person remained the company’s innovator, but he can’t be quick enough or involved enough for the company to stay adaptive. The cure is for the “innovator” to also be a great teacher open about his thought process. He leaves innovators behind at each branch and now:

      – Makes big, company wide innovations.

      – Leads a team of local innovators, responsible for their continual development, so that the company can be quick to adjust to changes in society, technology, and the market.

      His eventual goal should be to develop the best of these into his overall position, at which time he should serve as an advisor to the company, get passive income from their success, and move on to a bigger, more challenging project.

      The exception being if that company is constantly producing innovative products, I.E. Google, where he can still exercise his talent in their Google [x] program, for example.

      Drop down to [x] for a few years, develop the future of the company, pop back up as CEO to implement those products, (rotate with their current Innovators: Page, Brin).

      Not only because that’s best for the company, but because that is how innovators are designed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. WOW!!!
        I have come across some of the above said points, then and there.
        But the way its been phrased and put in words here is so cool.
        Few of the points are new to my insights and i loved it.
        I liked in particular the google example.
        Nice insights. It would also be a delight to read, if you could construct the points been put here, as a post.
        Thank you for sharing.
        And sorry for the delayed reply, sometimes it takes time for me to recharge.


  2. ⭐ Thats well said. I like this point very much “Leaders create more leaders, Managers create followers”. I feel so good to know about your good intentions. Love the loads of insights from the blog.

    ⭐ I also remember reading from your other posts that you perceived a degree as waste. I felt the same. To be more precise, I felt that the degree I completed was a waste from career point of view, however it helped me to practice little professionalism and introduced me lots of wide variety of people.

    But, why is it being an engineer does not suit you. I understand that you think that it doesn’t suit you, but I’m unable to get why it is so.

    ⭐ I see perceptiveness, imagination and foresight as something that interests you. I think when we need to make an effective impact, what you pointed out all are essential. I think you would have read the book “Please understand me”. As its said in the book – Like intuition, there is also something called as being sensible. Intuition is something that focuses on future, sensibility is something that focuses on the past. On that basis, I think we can make a better impact also by coupling things what you said with the opposites.

    How people think – how we can make them think
    What will be possible in the future with technology and how society is changing – what was possible in the past with technology and how society had changed.
    Creating new ideas – Using existing ideas.

    ⭐ The way I would want to make a positive impact in the world, is by improving human efficiency and effectiveness.

    ⭐ I’m very glad to feel your passion in technology and the good intentions in taking it to people for better life.


    1. By being an engineer, I would become too set on what’s possible and what’s not.

      I want to stay outside of the box (aka Steve Jobs: not an engineer, but a brilliant technologist due to his understanding of human behavior and surrounding himself with the right technical help to bring his vision to reality).

      It takes a team of divergent personalities and skill sets to create truly remarkable products. I’m not an engineer, but I understand technology well enough to communicate my ideas to the people that do.

      My whole leadership style is to surround myself with people who respect what I bring to the table, but bring something different to the table, themselves. I’m not a specialist. I know a little about a lot, which increases the number of dots for my Ne to connect. It’s made me able to make an impact in unrelated fields. The more diverse experiences I’ve had, the better of an innovator I’ve become.

      I love engineers. I need them to bring some of my concepts to reality. They need me to think outside the rule book.

      Sometimes, an idea I’ll invent simply won’t be possible. However, sometimes, my “ignorance” of specifics pushes the technical specialists to create things they wouldn’t have considered.

      Steve didn’t do a very good job, until the end of his life, of allowing the public to see how the creation of his innovations were possible.

      For example: When he had a conceptual “vision” for a product, he took a hand picked team of engineers, designers, etc. on a weekend outing to a remote place.

      He would present his concept to his team, and have a 3-5 day brainstorming session, allowing anyone to suggest ideas or express concerns.

      Everything got added to the white board. Then, him and his team would refine his concept into the product they would create.

      I have been in teams with diverse personalities, such as this, and brainstorming is taken to a whole new level.

      Larry Page has transitioned into a similar role. In Google’s early days, he played a pivotal technical role in the creation of the original product: Search. As Google began diversifying, and as newer technology increased in complexity, his role transformed more into a visionary role. He sets the tone, big picture strategy, and surrounds himself with great talent in various specialties.

      As technology increases in complexity, being an “engineer,” now requires having multiple types of technical roles on your team, and having someone that understands human behavior, what they will need as society changes, and acts as the liaison for the specialists.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now i get, how being an engineer doesn’t suit you and, how engineers and innovators work together for greater success.
        I have learned a lot from the words above.
        I like the fact that generalist and specialist are inter-dependent.


    2. I’m just not someone who’s good at sitting down in front of a computer all day and typing code I am more of a thinker a combiner of ideas because to me it’s just as important to deal with people and interact with people and manage people as it is to figure out the system’s behind it I have to do one in order to do the other and if I have somebody that’s an expert engineer I’m I’m texting technically savvy enough to explain to them what I have in my head and if they’re a good engineer, they can take their specialty and make my lofty idea into a reality but strictly as an engineer they might not have the lofty idea because they’re constricted by this is this and this is that in that is this whereas I’m completely open-minded with everything I narrowed down to what I think would make sense for the engineer and then the engineer takes them from there and then they might bounce back and say hey we can do this and then I help them problem solve it. I hate to use this example but think of Steve Jobs Steve Jobs was absolutely not an engineer at any way shape or form and regardless of how you feel about him personally he was the key to what made Apple successful that’s the type of skill sets that I have them not compare myself to Steve Jobs other than the sense that that’s the skill sets I have I know what technology is capable of and I’m and I understand what people want and I understand will make people’s lives better and then I explain that to somebody that is an engineer, and then they go around and turn that into a reality and then I doublecheck it and I’m like yeah this is exactly what I was often about great job and then here is a text it takes to it it’s like I’m on it I’m a technologist but not on the technologist based on how technology affects people how technology affects society and you’re from a psychological standpoint a sociological standpoint to educational standpoint that’s my job and then I go and explain to the engineer, because the engineer may just tried to build the fastest coolest whatever but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what the person with the consumer want you have to be able to get into the mind of the cassette consumer and that is what I’m good at I’m good thinking like a customer and that’s why don’t want to become an engineer because I don’t want to think like an engineer I love engineers and I want to talk to engineers explain to them that I’m technical enough where I can explain to them in ways that they can understand but I also can understand it from the customer’s vantage

      Liked by 1 person

    3. That is why it takes two sides of the coin to be able to truly create something amazing yet it takes somebody like me who can think outside the box and can see things as consumer and knows it enough about computers to know what’s possible and what’s not possible and Earley’s for the most part and then it takes somebody super technically engineered that can take what I say and say here ya go


    4. And then I tested from the mind of a consumer and should be easy use should be even know like I know nothing about computers me you have to put your mindset and that and I do know a lot about computers but I’m using a product for the first time you know I want to feel like I’m using a product for the first time the same way customers going to feel when they’re using apply for the same time they’ll know how many hours were spent you know sold during that hard drive together the customers don’t give a shit and so any neither should I. I am the person that initially comes up with the concept and iamb the final Q&A person before it gets seen by actual customer yeah I’m just at Ihle said that the future CEO is going to be one half big imagination guy one half extreme customer that’s what you need and then the rest of the company is there to deliver products that I would like as the customer I just happened to be the CEO and then when we deliver the finished product to the customers it it’s been checked by someone who doesn’t have that much attachment to it with their bias to certain things and what we all get that way we work on things for two years we get attached to it yeah we get our feelings hurt when you know somebody says all Alex like crap work this is like whatever but you need somebody objective in order to deliver a product that will sell

      Liked by 1 person

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