The (Un)Approachable Leader

16863554035_7598b7e97b_zOne of the things I hear many leaders say, and I have said many times myself, is, “I am an approachable person; therefore, you can come talk to me about anything. I would prefer hearing it from you first rather than some third party.”

As a leader, you try to communicate to others that you are approachable, and still you continue hearing things about your leadership and decision-making from third parties. Even more frustrating, you only hear about some of these concerns during a review of your leadership before the board and your direct supervisor.

This usually leads to anger and distrust of your followers. You come away confused, hurt, angry and frustrated.

Why is it sometimes so difficult to get those you are leading to have some of those tough, honest conversations with you, knowing that if they did things may have turned out better?

To be honest, we know that some will never have those conversations with you or anyone in authority over them because in their unhealthy way, they gain some sense of power by talking negatively about you or other leaders. These are not the people I have in mind here. I am talking about those who would honestly prefer to come to you but find it difficult to do so.

In today’s post I will make some observations about why some people genuinely find it difficult to approach their leader. Next week I will talk about what you can do to help people feel empowered to approach you.

Fear of Authority. Some people have a fear of authority, and therefore, they find it very difficult to speak up when in a group, and far more one on one. This fear could result from being abused by authority as a child or even as an adult.

My own fear of speaking to someone in authority stemmed from being abused by those in authority over me when I was growing up. This abuse developed a fear in me when I wanted to speak to my leaders.

To speak up is considered disrespectful. You may be familiar with the sayings, “speak only when you are spoken to” or “don’t talk back to your elders” (that is, those in authority over you). People who grew up hearing these sort of things usually come to believe that speaking frankly with their leaders is a sign of disrespect.

In this case, the fear is not of speaking, but of showing disrespect for their leader.

Insecurity or low self-worth. Some people feel so badly about themselves that they are unable to express a view different from that of the leader. They will go along with whatever you want, even if they see a better, easier and more cost effective way to do what you are suggesting. Low self-worth keeps them from disagreeing with you.

People with low self-esteem just want to be liked; therefore, in their mind, to disagree or challenge someone they look up to will result in them being not liked.

As a leader, we sometimes make it difficult for followers to come and talk to us. We may say we want people to come and talk to us, but our attitude, tone and actions must match the invitation.

Perhaps you invite people to talk to you, but when they come rather than carefully listening to their point of view, you are more focused on defending your own point of view. Then they come away thinking their effort was a waste of time.

Or perhaps your body language (maybe yawning), lack of focus (such as checking your phone), or your tone of voice conveys to them that you are uninterested in what they have to say.

These are a few reasons some of your followers may not come to you–reasons which have nothing to do with them not wanting to support you or be honest with you!

When dealing with a situation where you feel someone should come directly to you as the leader, consider whether or not one of the observations raised above might be a factor.

If you would like help in achieving your goals in any area of your life, call us at 208-880-0307 or email us at to schedule a complimentary coaching session. To read Errol’s other posts, visit Christ-Centered Life Coaching.

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