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How Approachable Are You?

Let me ask you something. How do you react when an employee or colleague pops by your office? Or when they spontaneously call you on the phone? Or when their face appears in Zoom? How about when someone gets in the elevator with you?

Are you kind? Welcoming? Does your face light up? Do you respond to them with curiosity? Or do you do what’s required to be polite and then dismiss them?

Approachability is a difficult thing for many leaders, especially those who are introverted or who lack social confidence. But, it’s also critical. Because these brief encounters can be invaluable.

The best leaders I know don’t so much set the direction of their organizations as they do listen for it. It’s pretty hard to listen if no one’s talking. So, you better be approachable. Because so much of the good stuff happens in the moments that don’t seem to really matter.

If you’re approachable, your employees and co-workers are more likely to surface issues with you. They’re more likely to warn you when something is going off the rails. They’re more likely to bring you their ideas, or to tell you about opportunities they find or possibilities they see.

What makes a leader approachable? Well, it starts with humility.

Approachable leaders have no interest in pretending they know more or better than their employees. They certainly don’t think that due to their job title or alma matter, or executive-style hair, that they are superior to them.

Approachable leaders not only involve their team members in building the vision and strategy for the organization, they take their cues from them. Employees and co-workers are encouraged to voice opinions, even if those opinions are in opposition to those of the leader. And, they know that sharing is a two-way street. They don’t keep information to themselves for interpretation and action planning, but rather they funnel it to those who are in the best position to derive meaning from it and turn it into strategies and actions.

And, approachable leaders never stop the listening and observing process. This isn’t a short-term project where they travel from cubicle to cubicle (or Zoom room to Zoom room) chatting with colleagues only to forget everything the minute they step in the elevator (or the screen goes blank). It’s ongoing. It’s a way of being and functioning. And, they expand it beyond their usual sphere to other divisions, other companies, other industries and to customers and suppliers.

When was the last time you spoke to a customer? Or a supplier? Or a lower level employee? It should be a daily occurrence. Leverage every interaction in your quest for information and insights. You will find talent and knowledge you never knew was there. It won't be long before the little hairs on the back of your neck tingle as you sense both danger and opportunities.

It’s magic. You’ll see.

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