WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to:

I manage an organisation with lots of staff and volunteers. I operate an 'open-door' policy. How can I remain accessible and yet still do my own work?

A familiar problem. In some ways this is one of the penalties of success.

I am reminded of the Dilbert cartoon of the manager who says he operates an open-door policy, but actually snarls at anyone who has the temerity to step over the threshold. It sounds like you are the opposite of this - only too happy for people to pop in and chat as they wish.

One of the problems anyone faces in a senior post is how to balance the needs of staff and stakeholders with the demands of the in-tray and the need to develop strategy and ideas.

I hate the term, 'open-door policy'. It is one of those ghastly management cliches used by people as an excuse for not thinking. You simply cannot operate a complete open-door policy, otherwise you would never get time to do your job. You need to allocate uninterrupted time of your own - the trick is to be clear about when this is.

Rather than operate an appointment system you might have a system of 'red' times and 'green' times. Your 'red' time may be a couple of hours in the morning where you are clear that you are looking at correspondence and doing written work as opposed to seeing people. One chief executive I know takes most Fridays to work from home. He says it is amazing how much work he does there and this frees up the rest of the week for meetings and seeing people.

But please, you really need some ruthless self-examination. Why do you feel you need to have an open-door policy, to be accessible at all times?

Because you enjoy it? Or do you like to be loved? If you are spending more time than you need with your people, it might be because it flatters your vanity to do so.

Remember the advice of Machiavelli: "Since love and fear can hardly exist together, it is far safer to be feared than loved."

Machiavelli had some very sage advice that many leaders would do well to follow. If you are in a leadership position, you are not there to be loved but to make an effective contribution. This will mean at times making difficult and unpopular decisions. It will mean that you are not always available to meet the demands of others. Be ruthless with your time - it is your greatest asset. If you are going to give it away to other people, ensure you do this effectively.

As Larry Grayson said: "Shut that door!"

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