Understanding Intimate Proximity

Why is it that some well-thought-out projects fail while other half-baked ideas succeed? Why do many bright and powerful leaders wonder why no one will do what they say while a simple, wise shipping clerk can make a company change its strategy with a single recommendation? After more than twenty years of leading and following in the US Army and in industry, I wanted to understand the abilities that the best formal and informal leaders had in common. Most importantly, I wanted to know how I could implement their techniques in my own leadership style and teach others to do the same. This journey brought me to Intimate Proximity.

Intimate Proximity is a leadership paradigm with a very simple premise: to effectively lead, you must be close enough to touch. Necessary and useful handshakes, high-fives, and pats on the back can only be given in person. While this concept is straightforward, successful execution will require studying several examples, undergoing some personal transformation, and consistently practicing these techniques.

Mind the gap

The absence of Intimate Proximity with those you wish to lead can lead to intellectual and emotional gaps. The more you’re separated from someone, the easier it is to imagine, or actually do, the worst. It’s in these gaps that directional confusion, “Us vs. Them” tribalism, and questionable ethical actions can grow.

I’m convinced that the “financial gurus” of Enron were able to make up their own rules and feel accountable to no one but themselves due, in part, to the separation they maintained from their stockholders, their customers, and their employees. The deliberate actions they took to keep themselves separated certainly helped enable their malfeasance.

Even Sun-tzu, the famous Chinese strategist, knew the value of proximity: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” When there’s a gap, you just can’t be sure what your friends, teammates, or enemies are up to.

What you have to do

Leading from within Intimate Proximity will require effort and time, but it doesn’t have to cost you money. Instead you’ll have to invest yourself into the process as relationships take time to develop. It requires an absolute sincerity of purpose that others must be able to detect. You cannot hope to fool anyone into believing you want to sincerely lead them if you are just looking for short term success. You may just have to change who you are to become the leader you want to be.

While you may be in charge of a team, group, or department, you must recognize that the only success you’ll have will come through leading individuals. Each of us is unique and we all have different needs. While each must be led differently, they must all be led fairly. Your team, group, or department will only come along with your plans if each of the individual participants believes in what you and they are doing.

Since you’re going to want to lead the team within Intimate Proximity, you’ll be able to share in the struggles and wins as part of the team instead of just being “in charge.” Intimate Proximity allows you to share experiences with your teammates since you’ll be “in the trenches” with them. When you’re out with your team celebrating an achieved milestone, you’ll be able to share in the “Hey, do you remember the time we all had to …” -type stories. Close teams with even mediocre talent can do so much more than a loosely affiliated group of stars.

Lastly, leading from within Intimate Proximity will require you to communicate both verbally and non-verbally. For example, even though you published an email saying that you think it’s important for your meetings to start on time, your team will absolutely notice that you start every meeting when the second hand hits twelve. These routine, non-verbal confirmations of your principles will solidify how your team sees you.

What you win

The intended goal of leading from within Intimate Proximity is not just to feel good and have others like you (although it’s a satisfying side benefit). Instead, it’s about getting great results from good people in both the short- and long-term.

Intimate Proximity works well regardless of how many direct reports you have. Since only the CEO has the entire team as direct or indirect reports, you will always have to influence those who don’t report to you. Don’t forget that the point is getting people to follow because they want to, not because they have to. These techniques can work equally well with co-workers, service workers, or even family members.

Leading from within Intimate Proximity also has a flywheel effect which ensures that it works even when you’re not driving it. Even though you will be the guide and the initiator, you’ll want people to do things when you’re not around. You will want the process to continue because of your newly developed, mutual culture, not simply your demands.

Intimate Proximity can help

Whether you’re brand-new to the challenges of influencing others or have been leading teams for years, Intimate Proximity can offer you a very effective paradigm. It will change how you see yourself as a leader as well as a follower and give you insights into motivating your team towards sustainable long-term success year after year. Those who are willing to change themselves, are committed to leading their team within Intimate Proximity, and are dedicated to learning new communication strategies in order to lead others will find leadership to be personally and professionally fulfilling.