The Ghost Leader

By | August 25, 2019

[August 25, 2019]  In my pre-teen days, a small group of friends and I worked stocking shelves in a local Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store.  Billy was my best buddy and he was the “boss.”  But we never saw the real boss; the store manager.  The manager was the ghost leader; a name that employees had given him.

“When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” – idiom by unknown

“Ghost leader” was an uncomplimentary, pejorative term.  The store manager was not well-liked anyway and perhaps that is why he was never around to guide or oversee our work.  For me, it was great not having an adult looking over my shoulder.  Plus, we had time to waste time in the back storeroom and kiss on some of the girls.  I liked the job and left only because school started back.

Everyone has experience with this situation.  Most places of business, hospitals, and government offices, you will rarely see someone who is in charge.  Those people are hidden, out of sight, for reasons unknown to me.  I always imagined that leadership meant being seen and heard.  That is why my type of leadership always involved walking around, getting to meet people, and hear what they had to say.

This kind of kick-the-tires, hands-on leadership is the best way, in my opinion, to show who’s in charge and permeates confidence in the workforce.  I can’t imagine it any other way.  This past weekend, I was in a local gift shop.  The employee at the counter couldn’t answer my question on a piece of jewelry I was looking at, so I asked for the store owner.  “Oh,” she said, “the owner never comes in.”  So much for getting my simple question answered.

The U.S. military has a tradition of establishing a line of succession for leaders.  In all missions, they make it clear who is in charge if the commander is killed or injured.  Someone has to be in charge and when in combat there is little time to sit around and figure who would be the best person to step up.  That is why there is a list that everyone knows.  That person also knows it and has the responsibility to be familiar with unit operations and the commander’s methods of leading the unit.

Looking back on my time stocking shelves, I see it fondly but only because I had a good time and made some extra cash.  But what I didn’t learn was what the experienced store manager could have taught me.  That will be lost forever.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

14 thoughts on “The Ghost Leader

  1. JT Patterson

    Ha Ha. Great title and very attractive. I wondered what you would be writing about today and I was not disappointed. Well done!

  2. Harry Donner

    ‘Ghost leaders’ are unseen leaders. Interesting take on absent leadership.

  3. Georgie B.

    When you see leaders who are around others, being seen and heard, that is a real leader. They may make mistakes but people see them as real and not a fake. When you are not seen, questions begin to build in people’s minds about you. They cannot see the leader in action. They start to think the leader doesn’t care and that begins the downhill slide.

    1. Drew Dill

      Caring is one of the more important skills to have than most others. But, you must SHOW that you care and not just do it. Both matter. Absent leaders cannot show it.

      1. Xerxes I

        Thanks for supporting Gen. Satterfield’s ideas here, Drew and Georgie. I like coming to this website, despite not having been here long. I’m always glad to read the comment’s section too.

  4. Ed Berkmeister

    I work with a local charter school that is trying to recruit more students. Where ever I go to recruit the one thing I DON’T see are the leaders of the charter school. If the leaders are not out and about, how can anyone know they are serious about recruiting or attracting donations?

  5. Gil Johnson

    Long ago, I had a boss that was never there. He relied on his assistant who was a lazy slob to manage us ‘little people.’ Eventually I quit and went to another job where there was better pay and better leadership. The company went out of business (the one I left) and we picked up several of the disgruntled employees (who were much happier). If the leadership had been present, maybe that would not have happened.

    1. Joe Omerrod

      I hear this all the time. It’s one thing for a leader to be somewhere else in the company as long as everyone knows it. It’s when the leader’s absence is simply unexplained, that matters.

    2. Albert Ayer

      I too hear lots about this. Are leaders lazy? Or stupid? I don’t know but I think they lack the courage to do what is right and be out and about among everyone.

  6. Willie Shrumburger

    Another interesting article, thank you Gen. Satterfield.

  7. Nick Lighthouse

    You are correct that too many leaders are simply absent. Being there is important, much more important than people may realize.

    1. Darryl Sitterly

      Correct. Too many simply don’t want to know this.

    2. Yusaf from Texas

      Good comment, Nick. Glad to see you on today.

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