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Approachable – but not Available


August 21, 2014

Welcome back! So, you’ve returned to the office after your holiday, or after meetings with clients or after a trip to the corporate HQ – and it seems everyone is asking if you’ve “got a minute” to talk with them! And you’re a supportive kind of leader who wants to ‘serve’ your colleagues, unblock their issues and help them to perform. So you organise the queue of people, schedule appointments with them and, eventually, you get to catch up with them all. Well, you’ve always worked hard to be approachable so that people feel comfortable to ask for your insight, advice or help. You’ve made it!

Or have you?…


This scenario is common among the senior managers I work with. Generally they’re feeling pleased that they’re needed and that they have built relationships with their colleagues and employees. But then they start to question how well they’re developing their strategic, longer-term focus and suddenly it hits them. They realise that their diary is out of their control and is being invaded by their colleagues, trampling over their thinking time, marauding through their lunchtime, squatting in their desk space. Being approachable is not helping them! And that’s because they’re confusing their approachability with their availability.

Border Control

In these days of leaner organisations, working in open-plan offices, with fewer of us blessed with P.A.s and with our enhanced ability to manage our web-based diaries, the need for us to be stricter on our use of time and the gatekeeping rules we put in place is vital. In other words, it’s great to be 100% approachable – but not 100% available!

Passports Please!

If you want to secure valuable strategic thinking time, planning time, self-development time and even a quiet break, here’s a selection of approaches that have worked for the senior managers I’ve worked with:

  • Get used to being “properly selfish”: many of us are taught that being selfish is bad (a great coaching topic) but we do need to get comfortable with being protective and more single-minded in performing our senior roles well and behaving like Directors.
  • Allocate ‘Not Available’ time: plan it in! If you don’t plan it you’ve got nothing to protect! Then find a way to let colleagues know about this practice you’ve adopted and why you’ve adopted it.
  • Develop and delegate: as soon as you can, pass responsibility for answering questions about certain topics to your team members. I would strongly recommend that you don’t wait until they’re ready for this. Avoid throwing them in at the deep end but certainly start slightly earlier than feels comfortable.
  • Become your own P.A./gatekeeper: if you had a PA you’d brief them on who to let into your office space to talk to you and what you’re prepared to discuss. And you’d brief them on who else your visitors could talk to instead. Decide – and perform this gatekeeper role for yourself if necessary.
  • Stand Up! – I had a colleague who protected the area around his desk space to stop ‘intruders’ and ‘squatters’ by simply standing up to greet them as they arrived. If he was not interruptible at that time he’d then guide them away from his desk with an arm slightly out-stretched in a very gentle sweeping motion and very politely would agree a time when he would catch up with them later. They felt OK about it and he’d protected his time to deliver his goals.
  • Get Goal Focused – be rigorous in the planning and pursuit of your daily, weekly, project and, above all, your strategic goals.

Being approachable doesn’t mean always being available.

But when you are available, always be approachable!

If you’re looking to find ways to be more effective in your role and to find ways to manage your availability, then approach us.  Call us on +44 (0) 784o 323585 or send us note to  We’d love to match our availability with yours!

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