Leadership, Success, and Accessibility

The more successful you become as a leader, the more other people will demand of your time. As a result, if you are going to maintain margin for your most important priorities, you will have to make some difficult decisions about your accessibility.

Limited Access - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ugurhan, Image #13855601

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ugurhan

Recently, I was listening to Andy Stanley talk about this very topic. He said,

The harsh reality of leadership is that the more successful we are, the less accessible we become. As things grow and as more people become involved, a leader can’t be equally accessible to all people. So then we are faced with the dilemma of who gets my time and who doesn’t, when do they get it, and and how much of it do they get.

Your time is a zero sum game. When you say yes to one thing, you are simultaneously saying no to something else. The more successful you get, the more difficult this becomes. You find yourself saying no to good things—worthy things—in order to say yes to your most important priorities.

For example, last week I spoke at a writer’s conference. After my speech, at least a dozen people handed me their book proposal or manuscript and asked if I would read it and tell them what I think. I truly love helping authors. There was a time when I would have felt guilty about saying no.

After all, from the perspective of the one asking, it is not a big request. But, what they usually don’t realize is that I get dozens of these requests each week. To agree to their request would require a major investment of my time. Add all the requests together, and I am soon eating into the time allotted for my own projects, friends, family, and health.

As a result, I said to each one, “I am sorry, but I am afraid that won’t be possible. In order to be faithful to my other commitments, I have to say no to these kinds of requests. I hope you understand.”

What about you? If you are a leader with more demands than time, you are probably faced with similar situations on a daily basis. Here are seven ways you can limit your accessibility, so you can stay focused on what matters most:

  1. Acknowledge your resources are finite. This is a fact. You have 168 hours per week. No more, no less. Every time you commit to something, you are depleting your available time. Your other resources are also limited, including your attention, money, and energy.

    If you ignore this, it will eventually catch up with you. You will pay a high price when that happens—perhaps an emotional breakdown, a divorce, wayward kids, a business failure, or a health crisis.

  2. Determine who needs access and who doesn’t. Not everyone needs full access to you. They may think they do, but they don’t. Therefore, you must prioritize your contacts and relationships.

    For me, my family, the people I work with daily, and my close personal friends constitute my “inner circle.” They get my time first. Remember: once you let people in, it is hard to ask them to leave without creating misunderstanding or hurt feelings. Be intentional.

  3. Take practical steps to limit your accessibility. Here are a few things I do:
    • I use two e-mail addresses: a private one and a public one. I monitor the first; my assistant monitors the second. Only about 30 people have access to my private address. If something hits my public account and requires my personal response, my assistant redirects it to my private account.
    • I follow a limited number of people on Twitter—about 170. These are the only ones who can direct message me. It keeps me from getting flooded with spam, which is what my life was like before I unfollowed 108,698 people. I still interact with people in the public space via replies. I think it is even more effective, because others can observe and jump in.
    • I have a private Facebook profile and a public fan page. The first one is for my inner circle and a few others. The fan page is for everyone else. My accessibility on Facebook is almost identical to my access on Twitter.
    • I also have LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest accounts, but I treat them as public accounts. I don’t even try to respond to private messages.
    • I have two phone numbers. You guessed it—a private one and a public one. I use Google Voice for my public number. It goes directly to voice mail, transcribes the message, then e-mails it to my assistant. If it is something requiring my personal attention (rarely), she forwards the notification to me.
  4. Make a list of common requests. Go through your e-mail for the last few months and compile a list of recurring requests or comments. You’ll find that they fall into specific categories. Here’s a short sample of a few of my categories and requests:

    Blog:

    • Thanks for your blog.
    • I noticed a typo on you blog post today.
    • How can I advertise on your blog?
    • Would you write a post about my product [or service]?
    • What WordPress plugin are you using to [specific feature]?
    • Can you recommend a web developer?
    • Do you accept guest posts on your blog?

    Boards/Investing:

    • Would you consider serving on our board?
    • Would you consider investing in my company?

    Books:

    • Would you read my proposal [or manuscript] and give me some feedback?
    • Would you publish my manuscript [or book]?
    • Can I send you a copy of my new book?

    Consulting/Coaching/Mentoring:

    • Would you take a look at my blog and tell me what you think?
    • Would you consider mentoring me?
    • Would you consider coaching me?
    • Can you consult with my company?
    • Can you answer a question?

    Meetings:

    • Can I meet with you over coffee [or a meal]?
    • Can I get together with you to ‘pick your brain’?
    • Can I schedule a call with you to discuss my service [or product]?

    This is just a sample. Currently, I have identified about 50 common requests.

  5. Decide how you will respond to these requests. This is a huge time-saver. Why keep re-inventing the wheel? Craft a thoughtful response that really adds value and use it to point people in the right direction. Save your response as an e-mail signature or use something like Typinator.

    It also takes some of the pain out of saying no. It enables you to decline with grace, without going through the angst with each new request. (This is especially important for people-pleasers like me, who hate saying no.)

    I have an e-mail signature for every one of these common requests. My assistant manages and uses them on my behalf. It is a great tool for training people who work for you.

  6. Delegate to people you trust. You don’t have to do it all. If you are like me, you may say yes, but then regret it. However, if you can have someone on your team act as a buffer, it helps. This gives you the space you need to be more thoughtful and priority-driven in your decisions.

    In addition, people on your team are often better equipped to help the person making the request. Or at the very least, they can point them to the resources they need without your involvement. Either way, the person making the request is well-served.

    This is also a great opportunity to train your people by allowing them to shoulder the load. Jethro once told his son-in-law, Moses:

    The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself” (Exodus 18:17–18)

  7. Accept the fact that you will be misunderstood. People often feel entitled. Some will try to shame you. Others will talk about you behind your back. Don’t worry about it. There is nothing you can do to stop them.

    There are just some things that other people won’t understand until they have walked in your shoes. Trying to convince them otherwise only further depletes your limited resources and gets you off track. My advice is to ignore them.

If this is a struggle for you, that’s a good sign. It means you have a good heart. But it’s going to take more than that to succeed over the long haul. You will also need wisdom and courage to limit your accessibility in order to stay focused on your priorities and fulfill your calling.

Questions: Are you struggling with success and accessibility? How are you managing it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    I’m always amazed how you get things done, it’s a challenge to me when I struggle with the little bit of craziness I have. I’m taking note of this post so as I build my platform, I’ll have the advantage of knowing these tips before the storm!

  • Shari

    Thank you for this post! Wow! It spoke volumes to my life and situation.

    Like many others; our life is busy. My husband and I are involved in many things including building up 2 main ministries in our church. My husband is the main or one of the main leaders in these,  and I support and help whenever I can. 
    My husband has said “Not everyone can have access to me”  many
    times, and I just thought he wasn’t being nice enough. I now see the need to be inaccessible to certain people and things.
    Thanks again!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       Wow, it’s amazing how a simple post can help us realize something we’ve missed in our lives.

      While saying “no” can seem cruel and un-Christ like, even Jesus had a specific group that had open access to him. Others had to come and let in. And at times Jesus had to retreat to solitude or his “group.” Have you ever seen it in that light?

  • http://www.liveyourwhy.net/ Terry Hadaway

    I’ve put all of the plans in place in preparation for the time when I’ll need to manage my accessibility. At this point, however, I’ll strike up a conversation with stray animals and even myself, if no other life is around!

  • http://www.andytraub.com/ Andy Traub

    You’re handling this very well Mike. I know your heart and it’s probably always going to be hard for you to say “No” but you also know that in doing so you’re saying “Yes” to something else. You’re navigating this well and you serve as a great example for others whose brands are growing and available time is diminishing. 

    • Jim Martin

      Andy, several years ago, it occurred to me (just as you said in your comment) that for every “yes” that I say (regarding my time), I am actually saying “no” to something else.  This realization has been helpful.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Andy. I appreciate your friendship and your encouragement.

  • http://sparkvoice.wordpress.com/ DS

    I appreciate the candid approach to this post.  It’s amazing how they can be categorized as you have done.  This will be a tremendous resource as I continue to move further along in the process.

    I’ve always really struggled to say “no” so I’m excited about crafting a thoughtful response.

  • FrancesVictoria

    Michael. Thank you for sharing your wisdom in today’s posting. Whether you are a leader in your career, in your family, in your community, etc. the perspectives and tools you share are invaluable. I even go so far as to say, they are simply great tools for managing to the multitude of increasing demands on anyone’s life. Thank you!

  • http://www.Godsgracefulness.com/ Janice

    The past few days I’ve been struggling with this. Trying to do it all and there’s one of me. I contacted a friend and was advised to delegate or maybe even hire an assistant. Because I am a control freak I don’t know how I would do with delegating. I want things my way and done correctly. No one knows better than I do. 
    However, I am very intentional about making myself available to my readers. Although there are hundred thousands of them, that’s okay. I want to be available. I may not answer all emails and questions, but I answer the ones I feel “led”. 
    I opened up a public page for subscribers and love talking to my readers as well. However, I do have a personal one that only my friends are aware of and I don’t post any blogging stuff on there. They don’t know that I blog either. 

  • Chriscoussens

    I have no problem saying no to requests. I long ago realized that anything I agree to take on as a me-task has to be REALLY important. If it’s not I won’t get it done. The other 80%+, has to be ignored or delegated.

    I do have a problem saying no to people who show up at my door, or at least limiting my time with them. I like to talk to my staff. Sometimes I have to turn off my light, shut (and lock) my door, and focus on getting something done. When I don’t do this, I find the interruptions are constant.

  • Jamie111464

    Always enjoying reading your posts. I miss the spiritual side of your writings

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your input. I don’t create a dichotomy between the spiritual and the non-spiritutal. It’s all the same seamless reality for me—a life lived before and for God. Just my perspective. Thanks again.

  • http://uncommonlifestyle.com/?p=2486 CathyS

    Michael, Thank you so much for capturing all your great ideas in your new book, Platform. Yours was one of the first blogs I started following and you inspired me to start blogging. My blog has been around for a few years, and with your suggestions, it may just continue to grow. Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/paulorear Paul O’Rear

    Having spent almost my entire adult life in ministry, this is especially difficult for me. While the points you make are practical and completely valid, it’s just difficult. As a successful author (congratulations on the overwhelming, almost instant success of “Platform”, by the way!), how have you managed the personal struggle of knowing that such success has come as a result of many people acknowledging the value of your work, while realizing that there is no way you can possibly have personal interaction even with all of THOSE people – your loyal “fans” – who would love to be more than just a number in the crowd. I would imagine that the people-pleaser in you  has had an especially difficult time with that adjustment.

    Thank you for all you do to help aspiring authors understand the ins and outs of the publishing industry. You have helped shape my journey toward that elusive goal of becoming a published author. I believe it will happen some day, and your insight has been most helpful. God bless you.

  • http://johnmarkharris.net/ John Mark Harris

    The reality is, take an hour to pray/read your Binle, take an hour for each meal, take an hour to shower shave brush 2x a day etc., and sleep as you should… And you’re left with more like 77 hours.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       So it’s even more important to control your accessibility…

      • http://johnmarkharris.net/ John Mark Harris

        Okay… I read my Bible* not my Binle. iPhone phat phinger

  • Josh Palcic

    I am a physical therapist who works with kids with neuromuscular disorders. I am struggling with how to take on additional clients to grow business whole continuing to ever my current caseload. When we have hired in the past, families are reluctant to change therapists because they only want to work with me. While this is flattering, it is frustrating to not be able to grow and serve more children. 

  • http://twitter.com/PromisesFC PromisesFinancialCch

    Brilliant reminders. Thank you!

  • Susan Smith

    Thanks. It hit home deeper than I can express. Once again, thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kathi-Frank/647416902 Kathi Frank

    Your authentic explanation of how you manage time is highly valuable.  Your post helps those who can’t understand…and it guides those who fully understand the situation.

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  • Elorrainec

    Great read its hard to say no, but I learned the faster you tell the person the more they understand. I’m a law student , full time worker and wife and if I don’t watch my time my grades suffer. I always thankful for the wisdom God gives me of what I should spend my time on first. And I learned if I can’t finish up a project I have to rap it up if possible and finish the following day.

  • Rbmommy4

    Thank you for this! This was something that I need to read. Since becoming a women’s ministry leader and a lay counselor at my local church, I have had people who respect no boundaries and will call me almost daily with an issue that they want me to help them walk through. I had to put my foot down and began to not answer my phone and instead would send a text much later asking if they needed to set up an appointment to talk. It worked! I do not like saying “no” either but have gained some peace back and feel that my family time and life is not being bombarded by people who want access to me all the time. Thanks again! Great read!

  • Stephanie

    I especially appreciated #4 and #5. It’s such a time saver to draft responses to common requests in advance to ensure that you don’t have to repeatedly spend energy to create new responses. 

  • Ashleyscwalls

    I am so glad that I read this. Planning to start putting some of this in motion in August.

  • Mike Critelli

    I like your comments and insights a great deal.  As a former CEO of Pitney Bowes, I experienced the problem you described, and I continue to experience it.  When people used to get on my calendar and wanted something, I would ask them the following questions to reduce the incidence of lengthy presentations, and, also, to short-circuit an unnecessary meeting or call:

    -What do you want me to do?
    -Why are you asking me to do it?
    -Why does it need to be done now?

    I would try t get them to the “punch line” at the beginning of a discussion, which would significantly reduce the wasted time in a meeting and give it much greater focus.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Good questions, Mike. I like them!

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Oof. Such a tough realization, especially the zero-sum time thing. I want to say yes to everything!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I know. Me, too. But it will destroy you if you do. I’ve learned this the hard way.

  • http://twitter.com/AndrewDMartin1 Andy Martin

    Excellent. If your readers are not quite at the inaccessible place you describe, they should strive to get there. 

  • mlukaszewski

    In an attempt to grow and go to the next level, I shut out too many people and it turned out to be a costly decision.  So while it’s necessary for leaders not to provide unlimited access to people all of the time, I’ve adopted two principles in this area:

    1.  The less accessible you become to many, the more accessible you must become to a few.  Developing authentic, intentional relationships can keep you from becoming a solitary jerk. :)

    2.  Keep your guarded systems private.  The people I know who do this well almost act apologetically in this regard – not making a big deal about their green room or being publicly wisked away.  And they never make people feel less important.

    All in all, while I think accessibility is a necessary issue to examine, it’s really dangerous.

  • http://www.ricardoequips.com/ Ricardo Butler

    This is soooo important. I have had to learn this the hard way. Now I have categories people into inner circles and the multitudes just to get things done and take care of those people who need my time the most.

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    I think this very idea, which is a good one, is why Bob Goff’s phone number in the back of “Love Does” is so surprising and delightful. I used it a couple of weeks ago and was so blessed by our conversation. But I imagine at some point he may become less available as people demand his time more. Never the less I was incredibly thankful for his availability now, it’s a joy and blessing for the average person to have access to the not so average!

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  • http://twitter.com/BrianHolmesLive Brian A. Holmes

    Absolutely on time! Thanks for this. I am really assessing my time, and have realized that the things that are most important are being neglected because of the level of accessibility I am allowing people. Dr. Phil says, “We teach people how to treat us”. I would love to blame others for my lack of productivity in 2012, but at the end of the day, I must re-train people to respect my time.

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  • http://thejoshcollins.com/ Josh Collins

    Well I’ve got to say part of me hears and sees the inevitable wisdom here but then there is also this part of me that just plain thinks this is disgusting. They are in conflict with one another, and that is primarily due to the fact, that quite honestly most people don’t make decisions based on the method you suggest. Rather, most of us struggle, frankly, with just being present enough to engage anything at all in life. This results in us abusing one another with our lack of engagement and lack of words and response period. I know that’s been my story and also the story of countless numbers of others as well. But to do what you suggest with grace, intentionality and most of all humility is the key, after all, it takes a lot of hard work to get to a place you suggest, but it’s even easier to fall in disgrace.

  • http://daveshrein.com Dave Shrein

    Michael, this was such a great, methodical, response to such a pressing question.

    I have been wrestling back and forth with this concept, “the difference between accessiblity and approachability.” As I watch and observe leaders from my past it seems that those who have a character trait of humility are those who intentionally make themselves approachable. Though they may not be accessible, their approachability allows people to feel comfortable making the type of requests you’ve listed here.

    I haven’t sorted all my thoughts on this just yet but I really feel like your comments here have given me additional food from thought given the breadth of your exposure.

    Thank you.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Dave. It is an ongoing challenge for me. I like your distinction between approachability and accessibility.

      • http://johnmarkharris.net/ John Mark Harris

        It’s a good distinction. As long as people have a clear process to connect with the leader, and they know they can “do something” immediately, that goes a long way to helping them. The leader has got to set his terms as to when and how he can be contacted, but in today’s world, we can be very creative and flexible regarding the streams by which people get into that pipeline. One cool thing you can do is allow people to schedule their own appointments online (like at the Apple store). WOW, technology is great.

  • Anonimos

    Be accessible but untouchable. accessibility is our role as Christian soldiers. Because our reward in life is determined by the problems we solve. And successful people are simply problem solvers.
    Well done and thank you.

  • Anonimos

    I believe that the secret of accessibility lies on this: We must be able to maintain the balance between our responsibilities before God and man.

  • Anonimos

    Thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion on this very important topic of leadership. And thank you also for your excellent thoughts concerning accessibility.

  • Erich Robinson

    I agree with a lot of what you say here (great advice). However, I love the philosophy Bob Goff lives by regarding being more available (and this seems to be how Jesus lived). I know we may not be comparing “apples to apples” but what are your thoughts on being more available than being less available? Thanks!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      To me the question comes down to, “Available to whom?” I don’t have the same obligation to the masses that I do to my family, my work associates, or those I mentor. I believe this was Jesus’ strategy as well.

  • justin

    Timely topic. This is an area I really need to work on. I am a young pastor and I am planning on sharing that same passage this weekend at possibly the most important leaders meeting i have had yet.

    So many things get to pull at me each week. Since we are a small ministry, I wear a lot of different hats. Because of this, I believe it’s especially important for me to make healthy boundaries so that I can setup people’s realistic expectations of me.

  • Pebbles Eagle-Thompson

    This was a fantastic read. Points 5 and 7 spoke the loudest to me as I have had a fear of saying no with concerns of stifling growth. I will add that I now have two business cards. A general information card my team hands out with contact info to the office for when I travel and to hand out at my speaking engagements vs my personal card that is handed out in limited quantities by me only. Thank you for helping people understand how to avoid burnout and go the long haul.
    PS will you be my mentor ;) J/K