We want to see you more. I'd heard these words two years in a row and couldn't help but take them as being critical in an otherwise positive annual review. When a friend relayed a similar story a couple weeks ago about being stressed out having to fit in priority client work, caring for her team, commuting, family responsibilities, and face time with her supervisor, I nearly lost it.

Leaders have gotten the message that they need to invest more face time with employees. Yet, face time with senior leaders is a strange thing.

On one hand, there are career benefits to interaction with leadership such as feeling more inspired and engaged with your work. Also, a request for more face time from your boss sounds like a compliment. The honor of your presence is requested at the internal, operational meetings where senior managers and leaders tend to hang out.

On the other hand, it can be an incredible inconvenience that takes employees and rising leaders away from their clients and out of their game--and to what end?

Most employees who are working their way up the organizational ladder "get" what's needed on paper to be successful. In a study done in 2014, researchers found that 6 hours per week is the optimal amount of face time with leadership. For lawyers and consultants, it's about billable time and satisfied clients. For manufacturers and distributors, it's about making processes more efficient by working closely with the production team. For educators, it's investing time with students and securing the resources others need to be successful.

Nowhere in any of these documented "business needs" is there any official language about politicking with the senior leadership and meeting their demands for "face time."

Face time irks me because too often it's face time on their time--not yours. I've never once heard of someone deny or fail to accommodate a meeting request or coffee date with a senior leader who'd taken the time to meet an employee on their turf--or even halfway. Instead, face time is always assumed to take place back at headquarters and in those recommended but truly optional meetings where managers and leaders opine about the future of the business.

So, what can you do if you've been asked to spend more time with leadership so that they can get to know you better--with the presumption that this investment of your time will result in more advancement opportunities in the future?

  • Comply but do it on your terms. Plan in advance--a month out, ideally--which meetings you believe are going to be the best opportunities to show your face and reach towards those optimal 6 hours. You might decide this based on the other participants or agenda items.
  • Resist getting sucked into last minute conversations and requests for your presence. Don't let the pull of a senior leader's request take you off your productivity game if there is no important, near-term business need. Being accommodating isn't the gold star that you think it is. In fact, the more accommodating you are, the less seriously people believe that you take your other responsibilities. Set your priorities and stay firm.
  • Talk with your boss specifically about what leadership is looking for in these interactions. Are they really just looking to impart their brilliance or is there an opportunity to share your own insights? If you're just filler for the audience and there to stoke someone else's ego, take any opportunity to opt out and stay focused on what you know matters most to the business.

I understand that this advice might run counter to the very real political pressures that exist in organizations today. I won't hide it--I resent these. I didn't like them when I worked for a large organization and I don't like them now.

As for my friend juggling all of these competing demands, my suggestion was to be proactive and look ahead a month or two at a time and determine what meetings and events with senior leaders offered the greatest opportunity for impact and relationship building. Then, once she's made those choices--potentially with her boss's input--she could advertise exactly where she'd be and how enthusiastic she was about participating. What comes with this is stopping any last minute urges to squeeze in a little face time over business and personal activities you know to be more important.

I don't like seeing my friends and clients make political choices against their better judgment out of fear or the belief that they're being accommodating to the wishes of senior leadership. We owe our businesses something better.

Published on: Apr 20, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.