Someone once said that as a leader you have to be concerned when people stop coming to you with ideas, opportunities, challenges, problems, guidance around developing solutions, and a myriad of other issues because it will mean one of two things; they no longer believe you can add value or they no longer trust you to be able to help them.
As a leader how do you deal with the stream of daily interruptions as people come to you seeking assistance?
Interruptions are a normal part of a leader’s day, and in a majority of instances leaders can deal with most interruptions, however, there are times when interruptions frustrate you and take your focus away from important work. Many leaders will “bunker down” behind closed doors or move to another space in or outside the building. While both appear reasonable options consider for a moment what message you are sending through this behaviour to people in your team.
So what other options do you have to constructively handle the constant stream of interruptions across a day?
Here are tips to be to better accommodate interruptions:
- Accept you will have interruptions. As a leader it is ‘par for the course’ that during any day you are going to experience some interruption.
- Plot and record interruptions. If you find that you are consistently receiving more interruptions than you would like, build a diary of the interruptions so you can establish if there are patterns – particular people, particular times, and particular issues. Also, remember to include yourself in your analysis to ensure you are not sending some message or cue that others interpret as it’s OK to interrupt you.
- Plan for Interruptions. Plot out your key timelines for critical work and projects, and build in additional time to deal with interruptions without putting yourself under undue deadline pressure.
- Communicate needs and intentions. If you have the need to devote focus to work without interruption communicate your needs to others within your team, e.g. you need to work for the next four hours without interruption, being careful to be clear on what course of action you want people to take in the case of an emergency or unforseen circumstance.
- It’s ‘No and…’, never ‘No’. If you are interrupted in what you are doing, your first response as a leader should not be a flat ‘No’. First ask yourself this question “Is the interruption that has just occurred more important than what I’m doing and needs to be dealt with now, or can it wait?” If immediate assistance is needed, provide it. If the issue can wait the response to the other person is ‘No and …. this can wait until I complete this task which should take me another 40 minutes, once completed I will come and help you resolve this……’. The key here is to honour the commitment you made and ensure you see the team member within the agreed timeline.
- Unavoidable Interruptions. No matter how hard you try some interruptions are simply unavoidable. In these instances put clear guidelines in place on how you want the interrupter to deal with the situation now, e.g. get straight to the point with minimal ‘back story’, set a clear agreement of how much time you have at this point to devote to the issue, and have clarity about the outcome the person is looking for from you.
- Delegate. Quite simply, is this interruption something another member of the team can deal with on your behalf?
- Minimise disruption. Turn off tablets, divert calls to another team member, put phones to silent, and turn off email. Most smart phones have built in features that allow phones to be silenced for a set periods of time. If the feature is not available there are free apps available that will do the job.
- Think before you interrupt others. If you want others to respect your need to work without interruption ensure you respect the need for others to do the same.
As a leader, interruptions to your day cannot be eliminated, however you can deal with them constructively in many ways and in so doing send the right messages to your team.
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