Office Corridors

When Francoise came to me for the first time, she had just gotten the results of the annual staff satisfaction study. It showed that as director, she was not visible enough. Francoise describes herself as someone who likes to set up her schedule efficiently. She is accessible in a useful way, and has no trouble living with the fact that her presence and attention are scarce and consequently in demand. Saying no to people is something she leaves to her secretary and she organizes things without leaving her desk. She wonders how functional it is what the staff wants from her.

She is not about to pay all too much attention to the visibility complaint. But then Francoise comments in passing that she tends to avoid the office corridors. When I press the issue, she says she feels like such a director in the corridors. People look up from their work and watch her walk by. The way they step aside for her when their paths cross in the corridors, the surprising questions suddenly addressed to her, it makes her uncomfortable. So she comes early and leaves late and organises things so that people who want to speak to her come to her office.

We construct a corridor of chairs and I invite her to walk past them just the way she does on the occasions when it can’t be avoided. She hurries past, stooped over, documents pressed to her chest, looking straight ahead. I get the impression she is trying to get out of the corridor as quickly as she can. She is surprised to hear how visible that is.

That is not the way a king moves. When he walks down a corridor in his capacity as king, he does so at a relaxed pace, shoulders back, head up, as if he has every right to be there. He does what he wants, he daydreams as he walks, stops to look at something, enters a room on an impulse, leaves without explanation. Always he moves with obvious ease, undisputed.

After some hesitation, Francoise tries out this way of walking and discovers she likes moving with a sense of authority. She notices how she automatically becomes curious and wants to look at what is hanging on the wall and see who is in the office. She is pleasantly surprised that it is useful to simply stroll around.

A few weeks later, Francoise says she is getting used to the idea of walking around the building. Although there is still some tension involved, she realizes the benefit of running into people unexpectedly. If she is caught off guard or feels visible and ill at ease, she knows that adopting bits of the role of accessible king will serve her well. She takes a few deep breaths and takes her time to oversee the situation and formulate her response. Dignified but with an open mind.