On one of my first postings, Lessons from a CIA Manager, I listed 16 lessons I had more or less learned in almost 25 years as a manager there. (I think now we may be up to 18 actually.) Lesson 10 was: Your calendar reflects your priorities. You can talk about x or y issue being important to you, but if it never makes your calendar you’re lying to yourself and, worse, lying to others.
This is so simple and yet often overlooked. By now, almost all federal senior executives have had enough sensitivity training to know at least to talk a good game about issues such as diversity, employee engagement, work-life balance, etc. But it does you no good to tell employees that x, y, and z are priorities for you if you never can make the time to actually attend discussions on diversity, meet regularly with small groups of employees for straight talk, and deal with your own work-life balance issues. Remember that as a senior executive, your ACTIONS ALWAYS speak LOUDER than words. The individuals who work under your leadership pay careful attention to what you do.
I remember at some point at the Agency attending a diversity-related function and being thanked by the organizers for actually staying through the entire event. They marveled that “such a busy person” would have the time. Well, harumph! You can’t be very much of an executive manager if you can’t manage your schedule to do the things you say you care most about.
I also enjoyed blogging while at the Agency and found that to be a very effective way of getting my thoughts out to others. (It is amazing how muddy your message gets as it is translated through the layers of bureaucracy.) People would tell me they too would like to blog but they just couldn’t find the time and I would think, OK, communicating effectively with your employees has got to be one of your most important tasks and yet somehow you can’t carve out 30 minutes on your schedule. Somehow, I didn’t really find the time excuse to be that credible.
Finally one last trick about making yourself accessible as a senior manager. I am a slow walker. I like to ride the escalators–I find it pleasant. I learned from a management consultant–but I don’t remember who exactly–that the pace with which you walk the halls determines whether others find you accessible. People walking slowly are telling others, I have time for you, I can be interrupted. And so people will come up to you in the halls to talk, to tell you something you would not otherwise hear from them in a formal meeting. Fast workers send the exact opposite message.
So it’s not enough to manage by walking around. You need to manage by walking around VERY SLOWLY.
(I googled the phrase “your calendar reflects your priorities” and hit upon several good pieces. Here’s one on whether your to do list reflects your passions. And another on whether your life reflects your moral compass.)