How Your Presence Influences Others

Communication with co-workers is a crucial habit for everyone in a business. It doesn’t matter if you’re a manager, a team member, or an independent worker. You should move yourself around, and you should help others do the same. But no matter how you do it, you must keep in mind that objective observers don’t exist. When you get closer to other people who are doing work, you are influencing them. This is called the “observer effect” or “observer’s paradox”. This doesn’t have to be a problem, as long as you are aware of the fact and as long as you keep in mind the proximity principles.

The First Proximity Principle:

Match your proximity to people with the importance of their work.

Is there an important project or deadline? Go sit with that team for a while. Is one team lagging behind the others significantly? Move your desk to their working area. Are you working with two teams that need special attention? Sit with both of them by alternating your work place from day to day, or week to week. Show people that you care about them and what they’re doing and that you understand what’s going on by being there.

Show people that you care about them and what they’re doing and that you understand what’s going on by being there.

The Second Proximity Principle:

Keep your proximity diverse, flexible, and unpredictable.

You should not allow an important team to claim your full attention while leaving other people unattended. Optimize your communication with others using walks, trips, flights, and video calls. There should be diversity in your distance to people which will depend on the diversity of their locations and their work. But whatever you do, don’t wait for problems to find you. [Grier, “The Gemba Walk”] The so-called “open-door policy” rarely works. You shouldn’t wait for people to come to you. You should go to them. [Appelo, Management 3.0 loc:2309]

Do not manage people

The concept of moving yourself around and optimizing your distance to people has been documented through various management practices, including Genchi Genbutsu and Management by Walking Around. As a container term, I like the name proximity management. [Bregman, “The Real Secret of Thoroughly Excellent Companies”] As managers and creative networkers, we do not manage other people. Instead, we manage communication and creativity in the system by regularly adjusting our proximity. It should never be too much and never too little.

The so-called “open-door policy” rarely works. You shouldn’t wait for people to come to you. You should go to them

Finding balance

Running a productive organization means finding the optimum between creativity and communication. Creative people need time to themselves. If you let them be, don’t disturb them with trivial phone calls, and allow them to work wherever they want, most will be more productive, not less. On the other hand, some have a tendency to focus a bit too much on their creative work, not realizing the organization needs collaboration as much as it needs creativity. It is up to you to see to it that both are balanced.


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Copyright: scusi / 123RF Stock Photo

Appelo, Jurgen. Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. Upper Saddle River: Addison-Wesley, 2011. Print.

Bregman, Peter. “The Real Secret of Thoroughly Excellent Companies” <> Harvard Business Review, 18 March 2009. Print.

Grier, Sam. “The Gemba Walk – A Tool for IT Management and Leadership” <> IT Managers Inbox. Web.


Jurgen Appelo is the most popular European leadership author, listed on’s Top 50 Management Experts. His latest book Management 3.0 Workout, full of concrete games, tools, and practices, is available for free. Download it here:

  • Altug

    Genchi Getbutsu : go and see

  • I love the proximity principles. It provides a nice framework for leaders. I’ll be sharing this with clients. Thx! Your post, along with few others on presence, inspired me to write this

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