John Le Carre, British ex secret intelligence serviceman, espionage writer, dixit. He knows about danger, and apparently about the danger of desks.
You can lead the company from a desk on the 15th floor in an insulated office in the corner. Or practice something like ‘Management by wandering around’ , a term usually attributed to Tom Peters, although it may be much older than his 1982 ‘In Search of Excellence’ book.
But this ‘get out of your office’ ( and avoid the risks of the desk as a platform to view the world) is not the same as Management Tourism (trademark pending), the practice of visiting affiliates, sites, plants, and, of course ‘customers’, but not getting dirty on those floors. Seeing but not listening. Hearing but not understanding. Leaving those places with a superficial insight, and simply ticking boxes in a plan. For that, perhaps the desk is better.
In the past, I have known of a US senior executive visiting her very distributed sites in dozens of States and spending little time in each, almost invisible, rushing back to the airport for a HQ meeting the following day. I have seen repeated hundred times. Is it ego? Indispensable? Zero social skills? Love of air miles?
I see people ‘descending from HQ’ all the time and creating disruption by generating extra work on one-on-ones and presentations, and nobody saying, excuse me, and the point of all this is?
An executive desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world, but intellectual Management Tourism is even more dangerous. Move around, wander around, get out of your office, but wear the shoes of the people you visit, properly, deeply, like a curious amateur anthropologist. Practice the H2H (human to human), absorb, reflect, enrich, have a few ahas! Or, stay at your desk. Le Carre thinks it is dangerous, but, unless the above, people you visit in those affiliates, plants and sites, think that the real danger is to have you down visiting.