The (Un)Approachable Leader, Part 2

4824415099_d54730b401_zIn last week’s post I looked at some of the reasons followers find it difficult to approach their leader. In this week’s post I want to look at how you as leader might make it easier for your followers to approach you about even the most difficult matter.

Be approachable. This sounds simple, but many times leaders are not aware of how unapproachable they appear to their followers. Sometimes you may speak with such certainty that your followers feel there is nothing they can say to you that will make a difference.

While you may be certain about your point of view, as the leader, you should invite your followers to give feedback on your perspective. This is a means of saying to them you are approachable and willing to listen to opposing views.

Sometimes your appearance may come across as unapproachable even though that is not what you want others to think of you. This is especially true of the introverted leader. Or perhaps you frown without realizing it. Try to focus on smiling and showing warmth to those around you.

Listen rather than wait. Being a good listener is one of the most important communication skills you bring to leadership. Avoid what is called “waiting” rather than listening. Waiting is when, rather than listening to what another person is saying, you are quiet only for the purpose of waiting to present or defend your point of view. Waiting does not make your followers want to come and talk to you.

People can generally tell if you are listening or waiting. And it does not take too many people to experience waiting with you before the word is out and others think it pointless to open up to you.

Waiting is actually the default for most people. Listening takes conscious effort on your part to be engaged and to help the person speaking feel heard. Don’t wait; listen.

Make the first move. Cultivate the habit of making the first move when it comes to being approachable as a leader. If during a meeting you notice a team member has suddenly stopped talking and seems disengaged, make the first move in approaching that individual to find out what is going on.

I think this is similar to Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 5:23-24 when he admonished his followers to make the first move rather than waiting to be approached. Being approachable sometimes requires you to make the first move.

Show that you are human. As a leader, you cannot afford to come across so perfect that your followers feel uncomfortable approaching you. Share your stories, talk about some of your mistakes and blunders so your followers feel a connection. If you are “always right” and appear to make no mistakes, you will distance yourself from your followers. Approachability is about bridging the gap between you and your followers.

“Being personable is a leadership strength, while being unapproachable, prickly or guarded shuts people up and shuts them down, cutting off information flow and collaboration vital for a team to do its best work.” David Peck

Are you an approachable leader?

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