Coaches ask strategic questions to help clients discover the best answer for themselves. Coaches do not give advice. Usually.
However, after 30 years as a CEO, there are times when I feel the need to put on my consulting hat and give a helpful hint, especially when time is so precious. Here is a paraphrase of a recent conversation I had with one of my clients.
“I don’t have time to think.”
“Do you have an open door policy?”
“Absolutely! I want staff to see me as accessible.”
“Do you ever close your door?”
“Do you think this might have something to do with the fact that you don’t have time to think?”
“What are you paid for?”
“Good leadership and management.”
“Yes, so that takes thinking. You are mostly paid to think. Close your door!”
In my experience, whether a leader always closes the door or always leaves it open is directly tied to personality traits. Some of us may be more introverted. Some shut the door because they enjoy more productivity working alone than collaboratively. For some, distractions are a significant issue—another reason for closing the door. Others may crave being around people, feel energized by being part of the action, and so keep the door open most of the time. Still others give mixed signals, declaring an open door policy for example and then filling all available chairs with books and paper, so there is no room for anyone to sit.
Understanding your personality might be an important part of this path to thinking time for you. I suggest a personality assessment like the Workplace Big 5 Profile 4.0 to help you understand how your natural personality traits affect your work choices. What most people experience is an increased self-awareness that helps you become more adept at self-management. I can’t emphasize enough how this can improve your leadership.
Maybe you think people will not see you as incompetent if they catch you doing nothing but thinking. I disagree. Leaders need time to think and strategize, which is never going to happen when there are constant interruptions. Besides, it’s hardly as Avant-garde as the current (and well-grounded) advice that leaders should take naps!
For some leaders, however, it’s a habit and a feeling that they “have” to leave the door open. In a recent post, I shared the story of a client who was proud of her open door policy despite the fact she was overwhelmed with work and her marriage was in trouble. For these individuals, it is difficult to change the idea that leaders always have to be available to their team. They have “Constantly Open Door Syndrome.”
If you suffer from this condition, try the following for one week and see if you notice a difference in your leadership:
- Close your door for 30 minutes a day.
- Put a sign on the door to request “No interruptions until XX o’clock unless there is an emergency.”
- Refrain from socializing during that time.
- Reroute your calls on your office phone during that time (or press the do not disturb button)
- Silence your phone—and I don’t mean just turn off the ringer!
Turn off the vibration and if you’re easily distracted, put it in a drawer out of sight and hopefully out of mind.
Now use this time to think.
I virtually guarantee once you try this for a whole week, you are going to wonder how you ever lead a team without “thinking” time. Furthermore, once you’ve taken back your thinking time, you will encourage your team to do the same.
It is a myth that a manager or boss always needs to have the door open. While the individual may enjoy people and want to connect with his or her staff, they don’t have time to think. However, you’re also paid to think, so it’s time to close your door!
When are you going to schedule your thinking time?