The Artwork of Staying Accessible
Effective leadership in general, and effective sales leadership in particular, involves mastering the art of availability. Keeping yourself mentally and physically available – and signalling that availability to others – allows you to support without micro-managing. It enables you and your teams to stay attuned to your customers’ needs without pushing too insistently or aggressively. It’s key to building supportive relationships that feel natural and empathetic.
As LinkedIn Sales Solutions’ Head of Customer Business for the UK and Ireland, my role involves both managing sales managers – and supporting existing customers. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few months thinking about the best way to cope – and support others in coping. This is a time when it’s vital for managers to listen – and to communicate clearly about what our expectations are. And we can’t listen, reassure and clarify if conversations aren’t happening. Those conversations depend on an intentional approach to availability.
There are two dimensions to staying available. You need to safeguard your own mental availability by protecting the energy levels it depends on. You then need a method for projecting that availability so that others respond. As with so much at the moment, there’s no tried and tested playbook for achieving these things. However, I’ve found the following things helpful both for myself and for my team as a whole:
Bookend your day to help build resilience
I never imagined I could miss my commute to and from work. Now that it’s gone, I realise that something valuable was happening during all of those hours stuck in traffic: a clear separation between the state of being at work and not being at work. For millions of people, that separation has suddenly vanished and it’s causing lots of different problems.
For myself, I’ve really struggled to separate my work and family life – because on the face of it, it’s all happening in the same space. I experience guilt on both sides. I work longer hours than I should because I worry that time spent chatting to my wife and three children during the day is making me less productive. Because I work late, I miss crucial time with my kids. It’s a vicious cycle. The lack of separation threatens to make me less available all round – professionally and personally.
Coaches and instructors who specialise in resilience talk about the need to keep recharging your energy levels. You can’t cope with setbacks and help others cope with setbacks if you are feeling drained. Your capacity for imagination and empathy drop off. Your mental availability shuts down. Over the course of these last few months, I’ve learned that bookending my day is crucial for maintaining these energy levels.
One thing that I’ve found really helpful is a set moment at 6.30pm when I head outside with my kids to kick a ball around, try some rollerblading, or simply go for a walk. It’s a shared experience that alleviates guilt, switches my brain off from working – and enables me to relax in the evening and be ready for my next day.
Aim for continuity in team meetings and one-to-ones
In a situation like this one, it’s easy to focus on the things that change – and miss the importance of those that don’t. As a manager, continuity is crucial in keeping yourself visible and available to the individual members of your team.
As lockdown has eased in Ireland, my colleague Derek Murphy, who also works in Sales Solutions for LinkedIn, has made a point of travelling to see members of his team. He’s prioritising socially distanced catch-ups in back gardens or parks that provide a useful break from screen time, and invite people to communicate on a different level. If that’s not possible (and for many it isn’t), then a regular video or phone call at a fixed time still has real value. Try arranging for yourself and your direct report to each go for a walk – and chat while on the move. It can be a useful way of keeping your conversations fresh while keeping them as a consistent feature of your calendar.