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Chief Executive Organizer: How Business Leaders Can Pave the Way to Productivity Through Organization

ByMelissa Thompson, Last Modified
Jul 08, 2015
> Business Basics

In the hit movie "Remember the Titans (2000)," there is dialogue between two teammates, Bertier and Big Julius, that goes like this:

BERTIER: See man, that's the worst attitude I ever heard.

BIG JULIUS: Attitude reflects leadership, captain.

An organization will always take on the personality of its leader. This statement not only applies to management style, or corporate culture, but to things as simple and as nuanced as how a leader organizes his or her office space.

As a leader:

  • Is your desk covered in notes and files, littered with empty coffee cups or candy bar wrappers?
  • Or do you keep a tidy workspace, with a place for everything?
  • What does the rest of your office look like?
  • Are there boxes piled up in hallways or conference rooms with the detritus of yesterday’s board meeting scattered all over the place?
  • Or is your office easy to navigate, with a clear floorplan and a designated space for supplies, work areas, and reception for customers or clients?

I recently had some business to take care of at a local service shop. I spent about an hour waiting there, so I had a lot of time to observe the conditions of the place. The waiting area was a hodgepodge of office furniture and hand-me-down toys for children to play with. The nature of the establishment was such that children would be there waiting with parents, so the toys seemed to be practical.

However, as I was able to look directly into the office of the business’ owner, I could barely see his head over the top of the boxes and files he had on his desk. The reception area was the same. And as luck would have it, I needed to use the restroom while I was waiting. I’m not sure why holiday decorations would be in there.

Needless to say, the service I received during my visit that day was less than optimal. The employees were confused about where to look for things, couldn’t give a straight answer, and seemed to hate being there. This is a perfect example of how a leader did not pave the way to productivity through his example of organization. The place was a mess, and so was everyone who worked there.

Now, in my example I was describing my visit to an auto repair shop. The principle, however, applies to any business in any industry. The leader’s example of organization trickles down through the ranks. As my mom always used to say, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

Maybe that’s a bad cliche, but in the case of a leader’s ability and aptitude for organization, it makes sense to equate it with organization, productivity, and prosperity. Let’s look at a few ways in which leaders can set the tone for organization and productivity in a business:

Related Article: The Influence of Leadership Styles: How Givers and Takers Match-Up

Dirty Work

In a study conducted by Jeffrey L. Campbell, Ph.D., chair of facilities management at Brigham Young University, the findings show that a lack of cleanliness often becomes such a distraction in the workplace that it decreases learning and productivity that would normally be taking place. Of the 1,481 people polled for the study, 88 percent reported that concentration, productivity and learning became hindered in dirty environments that included:

  • A visible buildup of dirt and dust in corners and along walls
  • Dull and dingy baseboards with streaks or splashes
  • Dust, dirt, marks, smudges and fingerprints on vertical and horizontal surfaces
  • Dirty lamp fixtures and burned-out lights
  • Trash receptacles that contain old trash and are stained and smell sour

Hamster on a Dirty Keyboard

As a leader, you need to take initiative to make sure your own workspace is clean and ensure that the general office space is being cleaned and maintained by a cleaning crew regularly. According to Anna Johansson, contributor, “Start by asking your employees to clean up their individual workspaces. They should organize loose papers, wipe down desks, dust bookshelves and throw away trash. These may seem like surface-level tasks, but they pave the way for bigger picture change.”

“Being in a clean room seems to encourage people to do what is expected of them,” said Kathleen Vohs, lead researcher in a University of Minnesota study. This study further indicated that people with clean desks tended to choose healthier snacks, donate more to charity and make better overall choices than those with messy desks. However, those who sat at a messy desk were prone to more creative thinking. It was established that messy desks are beneficial at the beginning of a project while clean ones will make you more productive at the end one.

With a leader’s choices having a potentially big impact on the success of the company they lead, executives need to do everything in their power to encourage good decision making.

Hazardous Materials

Clutter collects dust which can reduce air quality. This can affect people through allergies, asthma and in some cases chronic bronchitis. There is also the matter of blocked exits, infestations and combustible hazards. These things each present their own dangers, but they can be managed by keeping the area organized.

Sometimes hazards come just from leaving things lying around. Every now and then someone trips on papers or other items that haven’t been put away. Another benefit to organizing your area is that it can reduce stress which can reduce your chances of having a stress related illness like ulcers, high blood pressure and migraines. To do the best job that they can, executives need to be at their best, which means reducing the risk of accidents and disease.

Related Article: How To Stay Healthy When You Sit At A Desk All Day

First Impressions Count

Whether it’s meeting with potential clients, setting an example for employees or talking with business partners, executives need to give the right impression. People want to deal with a professional, not a slob. When executives become organized, their employees notice and will follow their example. This helps everyone perform better and makes the executive someone who leads from the front.

Clint Halverson, VP of Human Resources for Extra Space Storage, says, “As a leader one of the most critical things that you do is to lead. Your actions often speak louder than your words. People watch what you do and how you act along with what you say. A major challenge for any leader is building confidence in others in their strategic vision and direction."

"Having a clean and efficient workspace can be a major support for any leader. As we have all heard, perception is reality. A leader that can't control his own workspace, while he or she may be in complete control of the strategy and tactical operations of their business, does not come across as being in command of their environment."

organized desk drawer

Lost Cause

It’s easier to find things if you know where everything is. Make labels for shelves and drawers as well as put things that you use together in the same space. Things that you aren’t going to use for a while can go into storage, which gets rid of a lot of clutter. One of the major reasons that lost items are a productivity killer is that they are a distraction. The key to productivity is eliminating as many distractions as possible.

Waste Not, Want Not

You won’t be buying the same thing twice if you don’t lose it amongst all the stuff that is scattered about. If you can locate all your files, then you also won’t waste resources duplicating them. As you’re tidying up you may want to store them digitally.

Related Article: Define and Design: 8 Desk Ideas for Your Home Office

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

We often say that a person is born with an inclination toward neatness, or was born in a pig pen. No matter your natural inclination, or whether you inherently know how to be organized and neat, you can learn the skills it takes to be organized.

Marie Kondo, author of "The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering And Organizing" says, “A person's awareness and perspective on his or her own lifestyle are far more important than any skill at sorting, storing, or whatever. Order is dependent on the extremely personal values of what a person wants to live with.”

If you value the company you lead and value its success, you’ll make organizing a priority.

She continues, “When you've finished putting your house in order, your life will change dramatically. Once you have experienced what it's like to have a truly ordered house, you'll feel your whole world brighten. Never again will you revert to clutter. This is what I call ‘the magic of tidying.’ And the effects are stupendous. Not only will you never be messy again, but you'll also get a new start on life.” Or a new start in business.

Melissa Thompson
Melissa Thompson
See Melissa Thompson's Profile
Melissa Thompson is a freelance producer at CNN and a contributor at Technorati and NewsBlaze. She lives in Utah with her 2 children and enjoys skiing, hiking, working out, and sushi.
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