In a recent post I highlighted the importance of leader accessibility, responsiveness and reliability, effectively saying nothing beats these for importance. A reader suggested I follow up with a note on how a leader can achieve accessibility – here goes with my thoughts.

Accessibility is not simply a question of saying you adopt an open door policy - it is about your partners and staff feeling and believing you are accessible. It is what they think and not what you believe you are or are not doing that matters. If you are not sure, you should seek feedback. Chances are they will have a different perception on this to you. For a start don't just open the door, walk out the door to connect with others.

I remember when I was in a managing partner role I thought I did a pretty decent job of being accessible and getting around to see people – I am willing to bet though that plenty of the staff and partners didn’t think so. The reason is I have since realised its not what I thought about this that mattered, but what they experienced and felt. Too often we look at these things from our perspective and although we may feel we ‘get it’, we often don’t. It is all about the perception of others. Everyone amongst those others is different. Everyone thinks differently. So, I don’t think I gave it quite enough thought at the time and should have. I suspect many leaders don’t. They should. It is that important.

You will quite often hear law firm leaders say things like ‘I have an open door policy’ and so on. This is a good start, if it is true and if that results in people actually feeling they can come through that door, or approach the leader in the passage or canteen and discuss what it is they want to discuss or better still, offer up some innovative or strategic ideas for the firm. Too often that door can stay open all day but people will simply not cross the threshold as they don’t feel comfortable.

Rather than simply having an open door policy the key is to create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable communicating and sharing their thoughts.  It seems to me to be more about stepping outside the door and being accessible outside rather than sitting in your office with the door open and assuming others will regard you as accessible based on that assumption and gesture.

The physical side of it is just one part of it – people can quickly sum up and sense what is going on; they know if you are simply going through the motions – if you don’t bother to learn names, don’t listen well, your body language is wrong, don’t spend some time, don’t follow up on a previous discussion, don’t follow through when you have said things like ‘I’ll get Joe our HRM to look at that for you’. Also if you have a hang-dog, rushed or impatient look about you they aren’t going to want to add to your woes by delaying you from your busyness. Or worse still they may think you don’t care or don’t want to.

What are some practical things you can do to be more physically and perceptually accessible? Here are a few examples:

  • there are seldom if ever instances when leaders are not dealing with some big challenge or working on some exciting strategically important matter for the firm – don’t let this get in the way of accessibility – you have to make accessibility work despite these other circumstances;
  • make a point of actually getting out of your office and wandering around each floor at least once a week if you can – it really doesn’t have to take too much time – it’s about quality not quantity;
  • remember, this is about them having a chance to say something to you, hear you, see you and so on, not about you creating an impression and looking good;
  • make sure you know the names of your staff – if not, introduce yourself – if you are no good at it learn some tricks to get good at it;
  • if someone raises something say you will see it is followed up on and make sure it is;
  • be prepared to linger now and then to listen to someone;
  • take up where previous discussions left off;
  • do more listening than talking;
  • remember important personal things that have happened for people – touch on those;
  • smile, relax, remember body language, which is a huge part of what we appear to be communicating; and
  • tell people interesting things about what others have achieved or done or the firm has achieved. They will feel respected and valued.

 

all the best, Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International