As leaders, we all have a lot of demands on our time. Sometimes, it is easy to get caught up in other things and forget that one of the primary responsibilities we have as leaders is to support our teams. It might be surprising, but in reality our teams are not there to support us. Leaders are there to support their teams! Of course a primary job of a leader is to set the vision and direction that the team needs to go, but after that, our job is to facilitate the team in accomplishing and reaching those goals.
How do you think you stack up in this area?
What would your team say about you?
I’ve realized recently that I need to get better at this. I know this is a key and important part of my role, but I’m not as good at this as I need or want to be. You know what I mean? The frown or sigh you make when one of your team drops by your office and says “Bill, do you have a minute?”. Sure, you are in the middle of catching up on emails, or reading that monthly report and it interrupts your train of thought. You aren’t necessarily making the gesture or sound effect towards the individual, but nevertheless, the impact it has on your team is tremendous.
I remember when I worked in a totally open office concept and an engineer came to my desk to ask me a question. We had a brief conversation and I answered his questions after which he walked away. Then I sighed and made a comment to the person next who was like my Sensei, that, “It is impossible to get anything done around here without getting interrupted!”. He looked at me with a surprised look on his face and very sternly said,
But that is your job!
He went on to explain to me that the purpose of my role as a leader was to be there for my team. To answer their questions, provide direction, coach them, teach them…
I never forgot that. He was so right! Ever since then, I have made a concerted effort to make myself accessible. However, what I realized recently is that I had gone too far. If I wasn’t in a meeting or on a phone call my door was open, and I encouraged anyone to come in anytime. In my attempt to give my time to my team, I hadn’t given any time to myself. To my surprise, the complete opposite to what I was intending was happening; my “open door policy” had lead to frustration on my part which resulted in a poor experience for someone that did come to see me.
I’ve talked to my team about this and they have given me some suggestions because they also realize, I need time to work and get things done. They don’t expect me to be available whenever they want, but they do want access to me and want to know I will get back to them. After all, we all do need to get things done that require our full attention and concentration. So the first suggestion I have, is to discuss accessibility with your team and get their input as to what they need and expect of you.
Below are a few suggestions to help make yourself more accessible to your team and more supportive when you do:
- Determine the best days and times of day when you are at your best to receive your team and give them your full attention. Similarly, determine when your best time of day is to focus and get your own things done. Plan your schedule with these times in mind.
- Have open “office hours” in your schedule and communicate in advance to your team to which anyone can drop by to see you. You may want to schedule the person in to avoid conflicts, but the point is that the time slot is always open in your schedule until someone books it.
- Close your door or go somewhere private when you cannot afford to be interrupted, but set a time frame as to how long you will do so before coming up for air.
- Establish an SLA or Service Level Agreement to which you will respond to emails or other requests and commit to it. Mine is 24 hours.
- Schedule regular 1:1s with each of your team and allow them to discuss whatever they want to discuss as a priority ahead of anything you want to discuss.
- Establish informal opportunities to have discussions with them, such as meeting offsite for a coffee, lunch or sometimes dinner.
- If someone does come to see you, or calls, and you are in the middle of something important that requires your full attention,
- Ask if it is urgent – nothing worse than telling someone you will get back to them later then finding out it is a drop what you are doing 911!
- If not urgent, explain to them that you are in the middle of something that you need to get finished, but that you will get back to them by a specific time. Make sure you do!
- When someone does drop in to see you, or during a scheduled meeting with you, turn your phone upside down so you can’t see the screen and leave it away from where you are, turn off notifications, lock your lap top and give them your full attention. Turn and face the person. At the end of the discussion, summarize what you discussed, agreed upon, and the follow up dates/requirements.
Coincidentally, as I was drafting this post in my mind, I came across a post by John Hall on social media that was similar in concept and had some great advice. Worth a read:
Leave a comment with what you find is a great way in which you give your time to your team.
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