An open-door policy—one in which a manager or other leader leaves his or her office door open to encourage openness and transparency in communications with employees—can sometimes fail to lead to the breakthroughs being sought. Why is that? Having an open-door policy is a great start, but it isn’t enough. To energize your team members and create the type of environment that encourages true collaboration leading to exciting innovation, managers need to extend openness beyond their office doors by ensuring that they embrace concepts that invite input and discussion.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
Steve Axelrod wrote in Chief Executive magazine that open-mindedness means being receptive to new ideas and information. Look beyond your first impression, release any preconceived notions, and approach each opportunity as though you’ve never encountered the situation before. Encouraging others to speak freely helps to create an environment in which all input is valued and everyone can make a worthwhile contribution.
Take advantage of the broad spectrum of knowledge, backgrounds, education, experiences, and cultural differences afforded by today’s diverse workplace. Be prepared to listen to seemingly outrageous and radical thoughts.
But don’t lose sight of the bigger picture or let your teammates wander off the subject; open-mindedness isn’t synonymous with a lack of focus. A new concept or innovative approach can be very exciting, but if it doesn’t solve a problem or create value, then it can prove to be a distraction. A good leader must provide balance, encouraging his or her team to engage in blue-sky thinking while keeping employees grounded on a productive path.
Also, not all team members are motivated to the same extent or by the same factors—what one individual finds challenging, another may find intimidating. If you want to move beyond the status quo and achieve different results then be prepared to rethink your approach. Use all the tools at your disposal to create a connection with your team members; mining generational, cultural, and social gaps can offer unique perspectives that may enable you to strengthen the cohesion of your team.
Further, don’t be afraid to change your mind. Admitting mistakes is one of the toughest leadership challenges, and all too often leaders are reluctant to reverse a decision because it may make them appear inept or indecisive. Several years ago, I was cautioned by a coworker to never apologize for errors in judgment, but you can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t admit to them.
I’ve found that members of my team are much more receptive to change when I’m honest about the need for a course correction. Reversing an ill-advised decision helps teams and companies to cut their losses and acknowledges that we can’t be right 100% of the time. After all, we’re only human.
ENCOURAGE OPEN COMMUNICATION
Building an environment that encourages others to speak freely creates a culture that acknowledges the value of other people’s input, allows employees to be more engaged in contributing to the success of the business, and helps to foster trust among teammates. Open communication works both ways: Making it a habit to share company goals, recognize achievements publicly, and address issues when they surface leads to greater job satisfaction and less stress in the workplace.
Listening with empathy is critical to being a good leader. If there’s a secret to success, it lies in the ability to understand the other person’s point of view, see the issue or situation from that person’s perspective, and weigh that viewpoint against your own.
SEEK LEARNING AND OPPORTUNITY
Never assume based on your years of experience that you’ve seen it all. New schools of thought and rapidly evolving technologies are influencing organizational structures, and understanding the impact of those changes, both from a current and a future standpoint, is critical to managing work relationships.
Embrace educational opportunities outside of finance and accounting disciplines as well. Experts in other fields such as IT, supply chain management, and even psychology can offer advice, expertise, and a fresh perspective and be excellent resources for helping to create a more cohesive team. In addition, don’t assume that the best ideas come from the highest-ranking or longest-tenured employees; a new team member can provide inspiration.
Finally, be ready to take advantage of new technologies, new products, and new ideas. Be proactive when it comes to exploring how changes in other areas can impact your areas of responsibility. Always be on the lookout for ways that you can improve relationships. Ask yourself: What opportunities are we missing? What potential problems can we avoid? What are the implications of changes to the ways we operate as a business? The answers to these questions can help you improve your ability to anticipate and mitigate disruption while defining a clear path to team success.
Staying up to date on a new technology, sharing that information with your team, and exploring how it will impact the finance function and your company’s business can help to strengthen departmental synergies, keep your employees engaged, and increase their value as strategic business partners.
Not everyone is born a leader, but as executive coach John Mattone says, management accounting and finance professionals can develop their leadership qualities and put them to positive use every day, both in and out of the workplace. Adopting an open leadership style takes planning, sustained effort, and a true desire to make a difference. Don’t expect instant results; your team members may need to learn the new language of openness, as well as new ways of communicating and collaborating at work, before they feel comfortable reciprocating. The effort will be well worth it over the long haul. When you create an open leadership style, you can expect to enjoy a more productive, positive work environment and a more tightly knit, engaged finance team.
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through Webex to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/career-resources/leadership-academy.