Management by Wandering Around: It’s Good for You and Your Team

image of executives going up the stairs

Back in the 1980s, management consultant and best-selling business author Tom Peters wrote about the practice of “management by wandering around” (MBWA, also called management by walking around), a trait that helped Bill Hewlett and David Packard build HP into a leader in the computer industry. Apple’s Steve Jobs was another believer in the importance of getting out of the office and talking with employees at all levels of the organization.

Today, it can be harder for senior executives to get up from their desks and stroll into the production area—especially when guiding remote workers and teams in different time zones around the world.

But sitting too long in front of your screen can be not only hazardous to your managements style, it can also be detrimental to your health and well-being. A Mayo Clinic expert, Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., says in a recent article that the risks include putting on extra weight, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. In fact, according to Laskowski, an analysis of 13 studies found that people who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks posed by obesity and smoking.

Fortunately, even an hour of moderately intense physical activity a day can counter that inactivity. Other ways to counter the negative impact of a sedentary managerial workstyle include getting up from your chair and walking around your office while on a conference call, either on speaker or better yet, a wireless headset. You could use a standing desk for an hour or more each day or put your computer over a treadmill so you can alternate periods of mental concentration with some physical activity.

Another option is “active sitting,” using special chairs, stools and balance balls that improve health by using your body’s natural ability to balance. “The way you sit has a huge effect on brain activity,” says ergonomics expert Scott Bahneman. “It can change anything from your mood and hormones to memory and cognition.” After working at a desk job for years and experiencing a decline in health, Bahneman began researching how to combat “sitting disease” and found that active sitting can improve memory and cognition by requiring your brain to synchronize mental functions and physical movements.

There are many other ways to add some physical activity to your workday, from taking the stairs instead of the elevator to taking a gym break or a lunch-hour jog through the neighborhood. If you’re the enviable “employee of the month” that gets the parking spot right next to the door, consider parking at the far end of the lot two or three times a week. You could also schedule your next meeting for a hallway or outdoor area, rather than the conference room, and discuss the topic on your feet instead of in your chairs.

Of course, the practice of management by walking around is as valid today as it was decades ago. But as effective as it is in helping you to be a better manager, it’s even better for your health and fitness. So get on your feet and start moving if you want to maintain your personal well-being and be an effective leader in your organization.

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