What does an “open-door policy” mean to you?

There are many leaders who like to use this phrase to describe how they interact with their employees, but like many phrases that reach a certain level of ubiquity, it easily can become more of a pithy statement that isn’t backed up by action.

If you keep your door open all day but no employees ever come in to talk to you, is it really an open door or are there unseen barriers keeping people out?

Being an accessible leader is more about what you do than what you say. It’s about serving your people, not expecting them to treat you as king of the office.

Advisory firm owners should not overlook the positive engagement and performance benefits they and their entire team can experience when leaders live and work in an accessible way.

If you want to ensure that you’re being accessible, there are a few rules you can follow to be sure you’re acting in a way consistent with those values.

The Key Characteristics 

In our client work we see accessible leaders, and we see some who aren’t. Here are three key traits that make leaders accessible:

1. They are intentional. One of the hallmarks of an accessible leader is that they schedule and keep one-on-one meetings with their team because they value the relationship that can be built from these meetings.

This time of personal connection is important because it gives you an opportunity to go deeper with your team than a quick “how’s your day?”

If you need to move the meeting, there also is intentionality and consideration behind rescheduling. Accessible leaders are thoughtful of their employees’ time, instead of expecting them to upheave their day to fit their boss’ ever-changing schedule.

2. They are structured. Accessible doesn’t mean open 24/7 for questions, but it does mean that a leader has been careful consideration into having a set availability that’s known to employees, so they know how to reach you — and when.

That structure extends to direct communication, but it is also reflected in meetings. Intentional meetings follow a routine like a three-act play. You receive updates from your employee on what they are working on, you ask how you can provide clarity to them on important tasks, and you ask what decisions they need from you and/or express the decisions they have made.

3. They are proactive. Structure is the foundation that leads to a leader who can be proactive instead of reactive. In large part, leadership is not about your IQ — it is about your EQ, emotional intelligence and how you can connect with all the human parts.

By looking for opportunities to engage and energize employees, often by getting out of the corner office and walking around to talk with everyone, a leader can be more in tune with their office culture and environment and anticipate where they are needed most.

Why It Matters

Being an accessible leader is the ideal, but not everyone operates that way at first. When you aren’t accessible, your business can quickly grow away from you and what you envision for it. Here are the three negative effects that result from being inaccessible:

Negative Office Culture. If you don’t lead your culture, it will grow without you and you may not like where it ends up. Enough said.

High Staff Turnover. People quit bosses more than they quit jobs. They want to be encouraged and led. When they don’t receive that, they will look for a place that provides it.

Poor Business Management. When you don’t stay in touch with what’s happening in your business, you lose the pulse of client and employee relationships. Becoming more accessible means you’re more aware of what’s happening day in and day out.

Get Started

If you feel like you aren’t naturally engaging with your employees, there are three simple ways to get started on the path to proactive and accessible leadership.

Create a recurring 1:1 meeting to make sure you periodically engage. This meeting does not have to be held each week, but it does need to be regular. Meetings can be short, too — a 15-minute check-in is usually enough until you get the hang of it.

Develop an others-first attitude. Ask “how can I help?” more often than any other questions when communicating with your staff.

Invest in your people. Your team isn’t on the balance sheet, but they are your biggest investment. Investing your time in each person of your team will return, and that’s a small amount of time to get the return on investment your people often can make.

At the end of the day, we put time into what we value. If you value your people, you will make spending time on them a priority, and if you do, you will see the benefits.


Jarrod Upton is chief operating officer and senior consultant at Herbers & Company. He brings over 16 years of experience in management strategy, client experience and operations consulting to advisory firms. He can be reached at jarrod.upon@herbersco.com.