Approachability – Leadership by Example

Make it safe to approach you, give time to be approached, be present and follow up

“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

— Colin Powell

Employees whose managers are open and approachable are more engaged. And those who can talk to their manager about non-work things are even more engaged. People who find you approachable will share information and ask for your advice.  Successful senior leadership is about being able to include people who can openly give you the information you need.

The best managers make a concentrated effort to get to know their employees and help them feel comfortable talking about any subject, whether it is work related or not. A productive workplace is one in which people feel safe (Psychological Safety) — safe enough to experiment, to challenge, to share information and to support one another. In this type of workplace, team members are prepared to give the manager and their organization the benefit of the doubt. But none of this can happen if employees do not feel cared about.

In organizations where the Leaders are approachable, are much more able to catch things before they go wrong and this in turn encourages strong connections throughout the organization. As a leader you are setting tone, to talk who you need to, when you need to, this helps counteract, communication barriers created by title, position, influence, department, silos. etc

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

— Maya Angelou

Thoughts on encouraging approachability:

  • Show warmth, smile and be easy to talk to
  • Be seen, out and about – do not let your calendar get full of meetings
  • Be present, attentive and actively listen to others
  • Approachable leaders learn names and ask questions
  • When you get ideas and suggestions from colleagues or your team, appreciate them.
  • Avoid sarcasm – be more straightforward
  • Be consistent in your actions to avoid being seen as moody, as people will be less inclined to talk to you, where as smiles draw people in
  • Approachable leaders share their mistakes, people see you as a human
  • People want to know you. Don’t hesitate to share a story or two about yourself that shows something about your character
  • Consider making extra effort to be gentle with people who are easily intimidated, or less prone to go “toe to toe.”
  • Approachable leaders tell the truth
  • Be helpful
  • Be mindful of the clothes you wear and the message they send
  • Respond and follow up, when given ideas or suggestions
  • Remind the people who report to you, how they can communicate with you e.g. Walk up to me, use Slack, Email me, here is my mobile number, etc

Ways to kill approachability:

  • Walk around the office with headphones on
  • Avoid eye contact
  • If you are lost in your phone/computer or always have headphones on people will not find you approachable.
  • Multitask in meetings
  • Be known to be judgmental (whether it is true or simple perception)
  • Talk too much without listening, or interrupting or taking someone else story/questions
  • Appear angry, or frustrated
  • Hide in an office or create overt physical barriers
  • Break promises or forget to follow up

Questions on approachability:

  1. Do random people come to talk to you?
  2. How do you make your time available?
  3. How rushed are your in one on one meetings?
  4. Do you pass credit for ideas given to you?
  5. How much do you know about your people?
  6. How do you encourage your leaders to ask you questions?
  7. Are you approachable to all people, regardless of their race, gender or level in the organization?
  8. How good are your inter departmental connections, how good is your non work network?

Resources for Approachability:

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