MBWA is NEAT – Be A Better And Healthier Manager

Executive Summary

MBWA stands for Management by Wandering (or Walking) Around.

NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.

MBWA is NEAT. It’s also a lost art that keeps staff motivated and engaged as well as a great way to achieve those elusive 10,000 steps you track on your fitness monitor.

When I started this blog it was called Live Long Lead Long. Its mission was to help people devote the passion they have for their careers and aspirations to their own self-care. Here is the logo from back in the day.

LLLL_Logo1That young, naive blogger is different now. He’s no longer young. But with a new mission to help everyone be healthy, be happy and save the world, he’s still naive. Regardless, I believe in the benefits of work-life integration and that is the theme of this post.

MBWA – Let Me Explain

Managing By Wandering Around (MBWA) is a business term from the 1970s, a time that predated social media, mobile phones and for most businesses, even email, electronic pagers and voice mail. But although none of these innovations were available to the typical manager, technology still threatened creativity, motivation, coaching, problem-solving and other leadership opportunities. That technology looked like this.


The concept behind MBWA is that what on the surface appears to be aimless wandering around the halls, results in leadership opportunities that won’t happen by engaging in another round of telephone tag or pedantically analyzing the latest TPS reports in search of underling’s minor error.

NOTE: The scenario depicted in the video above is not an example of MBWA. Lumbergh walked into Peter’s office with the intent to harass. It was not aimless wandering.

MBWA fosters casual employee discussions that may advance productivity, improve morale, foster a sense of organizational purpose or discover new inter-organizational cooperation (I refuse to use the word “synergy”<oops, I just did>).

NEAT – Let Me Explain

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is a fancy word we health nerds use to mean “stuff you do that involves moving around that isn’t intentional sports or exercise.” It is one of four major ways your body burns calories. The other three ways are:

  • Basal Metabolism – Everything your body does merely to keep you alive even if you did nothing all day but watch a recurring loop of Office Space. An example from Office Space would be that first hour of work when Peter does nothing but space our at his desk for an hour.

  • Thermic Effect of Food – When you hear someone say that certain foods increase your metabolism, they’re usually referring to the Thermic Effect of Food. The process of eating causes you to burn more calories (or increase your metabolism) then you would if you were just spacing out. The Thermic Effect of Food kicks in when you go somewhere like Tchotchkes or Flingers to indulge in Pizza Shooters, Shrimp Poppers or Extreme Fajitas.

  • Exercise – These are intentional acts of physical activity such as playing a rip-roaring game of Jump to Conclusions.

To learn more about the four ways your body burns calories, check out the L4 classic post, That Time When BATman and Mr. Freeze Were on the Same Team.

MBWA Helps Tweak the Simple Equation

If you’re new around here, the simple equation refers to the universal truth when you want to manage your weight as an aspect of better health. The only way you’ll maintain your weight is if:

Calories In = Calories Out

The only way you’ll gain weight is if:

Calories In > Calories Out

And, the only way you’ll lose weight is if

Calories In < Calories Out

Nothing else matters. Not carbs. Not fat. Not protein. Not gluten. Not sugar. Not processed. And so on. And so on.

Meanwhile, your health is driven by the 6 interrelated factors.

6 Factors of Health

These truths we hold to be self-evident.

Effect of MBWA on Your Overall Health

MBWA helps tweak the simple equation and it does so by increasing your physical activity and calorie burn. Because it’s intensity is moderate at best, your physiology (metabolism) does little to compensate for the sudden increase in activity. If you want to maintain or lose weight, you stand a great chance of pushing the simple equation in your favor.

But Does MBWA Really Result In Leadership Magic?

Normally when I make claims I try to back it up with research. When I can’t back it up with research I revert to common sense.

I’m resorting to that backup strategy in this case. Not because I couldn’t find supporting studies, but because I’m lazy. I feel that even if such research exists, success of MBWA depends on your personal management style.

If you’re a Lumbergh, showing up in underling cubes to assert your dominance, don’t waste your time. If you genuinely enjoy the company of your colleagues and have a vested interest in making your organization the best it can be, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that more face-to-face interaction is counterproductive.

But Does NEAT from MBWA Really Result in Significant Calorie Burn?

It depends. Let’s use that iconic 10,000 steps as an example. The conventional wisdom is that those 10,000 steps burn about 500 calories. If you walk 10,000 steps every day for an entire week, that’s 3,500 calories. Burning an additional 3,500 calories every week without increasing your calorie intake is enough to lose 52 pounds in a year.

But that math only works out if you’re doing nothing but spacing out all day. You already take a daily average of steps and that average is usually greater than zero. The average sedentary person walks between 1,000 and 3,000 steps per day. If that same person were to double the number of steps, that’d be an additional fifty to 150 calories per day. That’s not huge but it’s a start.

Furthermore, if that person can M-B-W-A as a distraction from snacking on some 200 calorie C-R-A-P, that seemingly small start begins to add up.

If we’re talking about a moderately active person, there’s still plenty of opportunity. Start adding some stairs into the mix. Taking a step up a staircase burns about three times more calories than taking a step on a level floor.

And if you’re really looking to make a statement, skip instead of walking. People will see you skipping around the office and believe you’re not afraid of anything. The folks at the top of the org chart really dig fearless people.

Finally for a real pro tip, if you find yourself in an invigorating round of MBWA, why not invite some colleagues? Why not take it outside and enjoy an escape from the stifling office? Why not engage in an out-of-office meeting?

MBWA – Walk It Like You Talk It

My personal experience with MBWA started when I got my first job. I mean my first real job, one that didn’t require my wearing a straw cowboy hat and plaid polyester shirt while greeting each customer with a “Howdy Partner! May I take your order?”

I can regale you with tales of how I got started and what it was like but I can hear your complaints of “enough with the regaling already!” from here. So let me just tell you some of the benefits I’ve observed from my own MBWA-ing.

  • My staff gave me early warnings of problems while there was still time to fix them. It’s always easier to discuss issues in an informal context versus the formal setting of a regular one-on-one meeting.
  • The team’s vital signs were always available. The further I get from face-to-face communication, the harder it is for me to judge morale, emotion and energy. MBWA allowed me to take the pulse of the team and respond when it mattered.
  • I observed who was working with whom. It helped to know which people played well together and who needed more time in the sandbox so they could work things out.
  • I enjoyed seeing the memorabilia people kept in their space and learned about what was important to them. People liked my comments on the Anderlecht Football Club’s newfound success or how much little Bobo favors his brother. It demonstrated my genuine interest in people.
  • I met and befriended the powerful but unsung heroes in the office who appreciated my collegiality and paid me back for it. My expense reports were never questioned. When it came time to change offices I often got first choice. When group travel was booked I got the best accommodations and flights. I know, this is a selfish reason to MBWA. Or is it just karma?
  • Since I adopted the MBWA habit early in my career, before I was an M-, it probably didn’t do much to improve my fitness. Unless you want to count building a habit of fidgety activity that people now try to reproduce with standing and walking desks.

These days I don’t work in an office but I manage my business by walking around and it still pays off. I try and take daily breaks to wander the business district in my neighborhood. I do this because I go stir crazy in the home office and not to gain some kind of commercial or personal advantage. Instead of visiting colleagues, I’m visiting partners and customers. The advantages above still apply.

MBWA Is Work-Life Balance Integration

WARNING: Geezer Alert


I hope by now you can see the win-win orientation of MBWA. The advancement of technology is inversely related to the amount of face time we get with our coworkers. Maybe these tools increase productivity but they also make us mentally and physically lazy. I find it ironic that the developers of the fastest growing office communication tool choose to call it Slack.

If you want to learn more about integrating physical activity into your daily life, check out this pair of classic L4 posts, Healthy Transportation.

And if you want to stay abreast on all the other ways the movie Office Space is relevant to your life (or if you have an interest in being healthier, happier and saving the world), subscribe to the Karma Sense Newsletter by entering your email address in the form below. It’s easy to subscribe and if you end up hating it, it’s easy to opt-out.

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