by Paul Casey

How to Be An Accessible Leader (And Still Make Time for Your Own Work)

Female leader biting pencil while looking at laptop

March 16, 2022 

As a leader, you know that being accessible to your staff and being there when they need you builds confidence and trust, which are key ingredients for a positive culture and team morale.  You probably do things such as having an open-door policy where team members can stroll in anytime to chat or problem-solve with you, or you stay digitally connected so that team members can ping you via email, text, or instant messaging.

This is where leaders experience a daily quandary: You want to be accessible to your team, but you have your own work to get done. So how can you manage the day-to-day, make time to focus on your own work, and show up for your team without feeling spread thin?

Being accessible (but not too accessible) can be a delicate balancing act. By implementing some simple boundaries and setting expectations with your team you’ll find the time you need to be an accessible leader. 

Be an accessible leader, but not TOO accessible by:

Declaring the “door rules” to everyone in the office:

Let your team know that a closed-door = do not disturb; door ajar = knock and ask if this is a good time; open door = c’mon in! This gives everyone a visual cue of your accessibility throughout the day. You could even adopt these rules for everyone on the team to help staff protect their time as well.

Closing your door:

Yes, it’s OK to shut your door periodically. Be careful not to use a closed-door as a barrier between you and your team.  Post a sign on your door that explains simply what you are working on and when you will be available next. And then get those priority projects done or schedule much-needed thinking time without interruption. Great leaders figure out ways to build in time for thought and reflection, both for themselves and for their team. Reflection allows you to think about what’s going well and what course changes need to happen, assess growth and progress, and much more. It allows you to step outside your day-to-day work and look at the larger strategy. It allows for reflection of process improvement and goal achievement.

Practicing MBWA (Managing By Wandering Around):

Add blocks of time to your calendar each week to wander the hallways and connect with staff to check on how they are doing, what they are working on, and how you can help. Many spontaneous conversations spring up when you show up on their turf.

Scheduling regular one-to-ones with each direct report:

By giving every person you supervise their own appointment each month, they are guaranteed your undivided attention. These recurring appointments give you an opportunity to focus on their development and clear away obstacles to help them do their job better. The team then gets “trained” to store up non-urgent topics for this carved-out time with you. Plus, people feel valued when they are heard. It may be listening to the next steps for the project they are working on, the action steps they took from the meeting they attended, or what they did with their family last weekend. It all matters to them, and as their leader, it’s crucial that it matters to you, too.

“Leading is a verb, so it should be filled with action.”

Telling your team the best ways to communicate with you:

Do you prefer email for updates and texts for “needing urgent reply”? What deserves a face-to-face meeting? What needs written documentation and what needs to be put in your inbox? It’s also a good idea to let them know what a typical response time will be so that they won’t feel the need to pester you if you haven’t immediately responded to their email. 

Establishing boundaries when off the clock:

Unless you are in a position of emergency response leadership, make sure you take “digital Sabbath time” to unplug from electronic communications for long blocks of time on your days off–or else you will head toward burnout. And if you agree with this principle, share that with your team, too, and make a pact about letting everyone enjoy their downtime unless it’s an emergency. You need your family and recovery time!

Conclusion

It’s important to leave your staff with the positive impression that you are there for them AND that you follow through on your commitments—you can do both. Talking about your communication preferences, utilizing regular one-to-one meetings, and blocking out time to drop in on your employees are all ways that you can manage the day-to-day while still showing up for your team.

This post was originally published on October 4, 2018. It has been revised with additional content and links to related material.

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