How many times have you heard a leader say they have an open door policy; that they are approachable?
Many of these individuals are simply regurgitating what they’ve read or have heard at a leadership seminar. They’ve been told that a fundamental requirement of an effective leader is to be easily available to others so they choose to announce their approachability to one and all.
The real test of whether they are “blowing smoke” is to watch what they do and not get mesmerized by what they say.
I have had the opportunity to work with many leaders over my 33+ year career and, by observation, these are the things the REAL approachable leaders do.
They live on the bottom
They have their office on the first floor of the building not at the “10,000’ level” where the air is rarified and where people would never casually go to drop in. Approachable leaders locate to make it easy for people to engage with them; they understand that a low intimidation factor is necessary to invite a conversation.
They are one with the people
They identify more with “the people” than with the leadership caste. Approachability is driven by inclusion not exclusion, and this means being recognized as a part of the work team not the executive team. Just because you have a VP title doesn’t mean you can’t fulfill your executive role and be a functioning part of the operations organization that gets things done.
They are known on a first name basis
Employees call them by their first name, and you notice it. It’s not that the leader isn’t respected, in fact it’s the opposite.
They attract the respect that leaves people wanting to call them in a more casual friendly way. The leader has earned the right to attract engagement in a first name basis; it doesn’t come from being distant and aloof.
They spend time in the work location
“Approachables” spend time in employees’ work locations, with people where THEY work. Approachable leaders spend more time out of their office than in it, and out-of-office locations are the workplaces of their people. They are shoulder-to-shoulder with the people going the work asking how they can help make their jobs easier so they can perform better.
They are face to face communicators
They prioritize face to face meetings over any other mode of communication. Active engagement with employees defines an approachable persona where interaction is the mode. They use one way communication channels — email, texting, social media — where necessary but prefer active conversation rather than passive monologues.
They have a public face
They invite “intrusions”. They invite communications by posting their email address for everyone to see. And they make sure all emails are answered personally within a specified time. Yes, it’s an onerous commitment which chews up time that could be spent on other tasks, but that’s what makes them approachable and other leaders insincere.
They put employees ahead of their boss
Places employee engagements ahead of other internal meetings and when there’s a conflict, employees take priority. This is uncomfortable and perhaps risky at times when the CEO — and this has happened to me — has called an impromptu meeting that you have to decline.
They lunch and learn with people
On occasion you will spot “the approachable one” at lunch with a number of employees which usually means they are looking for feedback on an idea or project or are wanting to recognize a job well done for a special team who have just accomplished an amazing feat.
Approachable leaders show their stripes in simple caring ways, but that’s why they’re approachable, right?
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