The Leadership Difference Between Being Accessible and Available

Posted 02.05.2020

Ever had a manager who told you they had an “open-door policy?” Who knows, maybe you’ve even declared that yourself. The open-door policy implies that your team members or colleagues can come to you with anything. That desire to be a transparent and open leader is admirable. The problem starts when people knock on the proverbial door (and knock and knock) and no one’s home.

When I’m doing colleague feedback interviews for an executive coaching client, I’ll sometimes hear that person described as accessible. Other times, a colleague will describe the leader as available. On rare occasions, I’ll hear that the executive is both accessible and available.

You might think the two words mean more or less the same thing. They do in the dictionary, but they don’t in the realm of leadership. There’s a big difference between the two and the example of the leader who has an open-door policy but is never around to answer it explains the difference. Accessible and Available. Not the same thing.

Being accessible is mainly a function of personality. Accessible leaders:

  • Put people at ease.
  • Encourage open and honest conversation.
  • Provide coaching and guidance.
  • Don’t stand on title or hierarchy.
  • Seek feedback.

Being available is mainly a function of time management. Available leaders:

  • Put team members and colleagues on their list of priorities.
  • Leave time in their weekly calendar for unscheduled conversations.
  • Make clear to others how and when they can be reached.
  • Keep their meeting commitments except in case of true emergencies. (This is especially true for regularly scheduled team meetings or team one on one’s.)
  • Make good use of technology – particularly video conferencing – to be available virtually when they can’t be physically.

The benefits of operating from these “best of” lists for accessibility and availability are pretty clear. Both the leader and their team learn more, develop faster and have higher levels of engagement and performance.

So, how are you doing? Are you accessible, available or both? What’s one thing you could start doing in the next week to move the needle in a positive direction for you and your team?

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