Leadership advice

How to be accessible as a manager without exhausting yourself

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

In well-managed organizations, the staff feels connected to each other and to those who supervise them. They feel they can approach managers with ideas or concerns. They get regular feedback on their work. Decisions from the top down aren’t constant and mysterious. People have a voice, if not always a vote. And when they don’t get a vote, there’s at least transparency about the process.

In order for those good things to happen, managers need to be accessible. It’s not enough to say you have an “open door policy” unless your actions match your advertising. When you feel swamped with meetings or slammed with paperwork, it’s easy to send off a “do not disturb” vibe. Do that with some regularity and people will hesitate to approach you.

So, how do you stay accessible while still tending to your full array of duties? Here are some tips:

  • Revisit that full array of duties. Are there any you’ve been holding on to because you enjoy them, think others wouldn’t like them or couldn’t do them as well as you? Is it time to delegate some tasks so you can free up time for talks with your team members?
  • Work the room. Take time regularly to wander around your physical or virtual spaces to connect with people. If you’re an introvert, you may not be keen on initiating social calls for small talk, but you know you’re fully capable of doing it. You’ll just need a little quiet time afterward to recharge. Remember, though, that your staff members who are introverts are also the least likely to come knocking at your door unless it’s urgent, so your meandering keeps you from missing connections with them.
  • Leave a bit of breathing space between meetings. There may be someone in your meeting that would benefit from a private word with you after the gathering. It can’t happen if you’re dashing away for your next engagement. And that after-meeting one-on-one could benefit you, too. People who disagree with the boss don’t always like to do it publicly. Their tactful post-meeting conversation could save you from a bad decision.
  • Have the answer to “Got a minute?” when you truly have no time. I’ve written about this before: When you’re on deadline and really can’t stop for a chat, I suggest this reply: “I do have a minute, but that’s about all, and I know you deserve more. So let’s set a meeting for…” and then give them a specific time that works for you. It’s so much better than “Sorry, I’m slammed, can you come back later?,” which can leave people feeling they’ve bothered you. Setting a specific time to meet proves that you aren’t just blowing them off.
  • Get disciplined about planning. When you have a handle on your day, your week, and your To-Do list, you can build in time for coaching and career conversations, feedback sessions, and just shooting the breeze. Planning can actually make you capable of more serendipitous connections, because you’re not worried about what you’re missing. You know how much time you have to spare.

Finally, and most importantly, Think about the quality of your interactions, not just the quantity. When you make time for someone, do they feel welcome? Like you’re glad they’re there? Do they have your full focus? Do they feel heard? Do you follow up? 

Would the experience cause people to tell others that you are indeed there for them? Then congratulations, you’re an accessible – and not exhausted – manager.

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