Don’t be an invisible manager

daniel debow
Published in
4 min readDec 15, 2017


By Daniel Debow with David Pardy

Do you care about engagement?

Engagement is a fancy word for getting people to give a 💩. When people give a 💩 it triggers discretionary effort. Teams become proactive. People go above and beyond. The team knows what to do, how to do it, and they care enough to do it without being explicitly compelled. Engagement also has hidden benefits — alignment, strong bonds between employees, and simply having more fun through day-to-day operations and execution.

Great managers know that engaging their team is the highest-value action they can take.

Over the last 18 years, many experts have shared with me how best to engage a team. I’ve also learned my own tough lessons on engaging teams at Workbrain, Rypple, Salesforce, with companies I advise, and, of course, my current venture, Helpful.

What I’ve found is: engagement is a mental state, a feeling, a vibe. It is subjectively how people feel. Because it is this feeling, having an impact on engagement requires a daily practice. Like meditation, exercise, or learning, engagement is about repeatedly practicing positive behaviors in daily operations. Engagement is not a one-time event like a team offsite. It’s a series of daily habits. Repeatedly baking these simple practices into your daily operations will help your team give a 💩.

I want to share one simple practice with you: being visible.


Management experts figured out that visibility boosts engagement decades ago. It’s not a mystery… employees are literally asking for it. Gallup and the Harvard Business Review found visibility from senior management to be the number one driver of employee engagement, and the number one request from tens of thousands of employee engagement surveys.

Bob Sutton, the legendary Stanford GSB professor, explains our innate human craving for visibility using an astounding connection: our evolutionary cousins, baboons. Baboons are social primates who live in hierarchical groups of up to 250 members. The troop is the key to the baboon’s dominance in its ecosystem. It offers protection, help for rearing the young, and gives the baboons a leg up for coordinated hunts, plunders, and scavenges. Each troop has a leader. During orchestrated troop efforts, the members look carefully at the leader every 20–30s to constantly take social and informational cues. The leader determines the group priority and leads strategic attacks and defensive schemes. By simply observing him — which route he takes, which target he picks, the location of a defensive stand — the rest of the troop becomes intensely engaged. They glean critical information to make their own decisions that maximize the troop’s overall probability of success.

The simple act of observing a leader is such a powerful engagement tool that it allows hierarchical groups to complete elaborate schemes in high-pressure environments.

Observing leaders is a deep and primal behaviour in humans too. Humans, however, have much richer emotions, visual cues, and verbal cues than baboons — factors that multiply the effects of leader visibility.

Overcome the challenges of visibility by operationalizing it

At work, most managers aren’t nearly visible enough. Busy with their own tasks, it can feel like a waste of time to seek the team out, craft intriguing emails for them, and organize all-hands meetings.

Remote teams are particularly prone to the invisibility problem. Physical proximity provides visibility in itself — the opportunity to bump into folks in the hallways or at breaks to share stories.

But to move forward with their careers and their goals, managers need to make the time for it.

My advice for managers is to adopt the practice of sharing. Constructively comment on what your team does. Share what you’re doing. Share what you’ve done. Articulate your daily and weekly goals. Show your team actual customers. Share customer stories. Show them investors. Share everything.

My goal as a leader is that everybody at the company knows where I am and what I’m thinking about.

I do this by operationalizing engagement. After every meeting, I share my summary and next steps with the team. When I’m at a customer’s, a conference, or with investors, I share as much of the experience as I can with the team. After meetings, I give feedback. When I give recognition, I do it in front of everyone.

If you’re looking for some new experiments to up your management game, pick a few opportunities above and make them a habit with the team. See how it feels. Then try a few more. Eventually, you should be delegating nearly everything you do and giving your team the visibility they need to take on ever-bigger responsibilities.

If this article resonates with you, you might want to check out the new app we built that uses mobile video to engage people at work.

Check it out and let us know if you find it Helpful.

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daniel debow

Dad of 4, CEO of, ex-Salesforce SVP, founding team at Rypple & Workbrain, angel investor, bass player, adjunct prof @UofTLaw and curious person.