Leaders are often so busy getting their job done, balancing hundreds of issues that they often let slip the art of communicating with their direct reports.

Sometimes a manager unwittingly chooses to impose a period of inaccessibility. My opinion is that, it is never a good idea for a manager to be inaccessible to his or her direct reports.

During my management career, one newly appointed manager hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign and closed the office door for lengthy periods of time. That leader was soon demoted to a job with no direct reports. Of course, it was not specifically the sign itself that caused that manager’s demise. That sign was merely one signal of many that indicated that person had been promoted to a position in which they showed their incompetence. That person was simply not qualified to be a manager.

The technical arts of managing are taught in school but very little is said about the art of communicating with one’s direct reports. Years ago some consultants noticed this phenomenon and published a work advising managers and executives to start managing by walking around, (MBWA).

Here’s a list of just some of the actions you can take to increase your accessibility for your direct reports:

  1. Walk around. Certainly the concept of MBWA is valuable, so use it to your advantage. Get out of your office and poke your nose into your subordinates’ work spaces.  Don’t make a nuisance of yourself and try to not micromanage. It’s also a good idea to do your walk-around at a regularly scheduled time. That way your direct reports can anticipate and save issues for discussion when you do visit their workspaces.
  2. Spot checks. The above should not preclude unscheduled, “surprise” walk-abouts or visits with specific employees to address specific issues or questions you may have.
  3. Bee-lining to one or two employees. Spending some time with one or two employees is a good idea. Do this as an unscheduled, random, visit, provided it is not too disruptive to your direct report’s work routines. Your presence can just be that of saying thank you for some project or work the employee accomplished. That helps to make them feel important. I remember when the CEO of our company flew in from Head Office and walked into my office just to shake my hand for some work I did. That put a smile on my face that lasted the balance of my career.
  4. Guard against being so tied up travelling that you destroy the office atmosphere or make it impossible for your employees to establish a close working relationship with you.
  5. Don’t put everything in writing to your employees. Stop that. Go to talk to them. Let them take notes. This approach is far more personable than firing off a memo or an email.
  6. Provide your direct reports with a means of direct contact that you treat with priority. It might be a special private phone number. Or a special “priority” ringtone. Or a way to flag priority emails, etc.
  7. When you hear criticism about your ideas or even of yourself, don’t let your ego feel attacked. Instead, welcome it and treat it with seriousness. Give the subordinate respectful feedback and consider acting on the suggestion or idea.
  8. When you do implement a corrective action on one of your ideas, or do make a change in your behavior because of a suggestion from one of your direct reportst, take the time to personally thank the idea’s originator and to complete that communication loop in person and occasionally follow that with something in writing.
  9. Be receptive to inviting employees into your office for a casual chat. Could be about sports if you know your direct report is a sports buff. Hobbies. Or even to just ask for suggestions for your own activities such as a recommendation for a movie, or a place to dine. Don’t spend a lot of time chatting and “wasting time”, but a little may not be a bad thing.
  10. Always be a leader or manager, first, but secondly, make it known you can also be a friend. Don’t overdo the friend part, though. You’ll always have to make tough decisions foremost.