For the third time in as many days, I have heard the word “approachability” used as one of the absolute key characteristics of excellent leaders. The highly respected DiSC 363 assessment uses the word in its interpretative reports. The term is often thrown around as if everyone understands it.
That I doubt.
Many leaders want very much to be perceived as approachable, which is great. Unfortunately, many firmly believe they have that quality when, too often, the total opposite is true. I am willing to bet more than a few of you are guilty of being unapproachable.
How? It might be easier to show you through a fictional example:
Carla is the COO for a medium-sized organization. Francisco is a new hire and told to go to Carla for the answer to a question he had. Carla’s door is closed, and the translucent glass inset shows that the room is dark so Francisco goes away. The next day, the same closed door.
Three days later, Francisco decides to knock. After a few seconds delay, a voice says, “Come in.” Francisco pushes the door open to find an unsmiling woman behind a desk. The woman does not look up from the paper she is reading for several seconds. Finally, she says, “How can I help you?”
Francisco has to make a decision. Does he try to sit down on one of the two chairs that are both piled high with papers or does he state his case in the doorway? He stays in the doorway.
“Well, ma’am, I’m new to the organization and I was told you might be able to help me with a question I have.”
“Okay, what’s the question?
“Well, I was hoping we could discuss the item in the personnel manual about–”
Carla interrupts before Francisco can finish his sentence. “That’s a question for HR,” she snaps. “Sheila Snodgrass. Down the hall, third door on the left,” and returns to studying her important documents.
Approachable? Not quite! So, what does approachability look like? How about another example from a fictional office across town?
“Hi, Adrian. Thanks for stopping by—and welcome to ABC Corporation! I’d heard you joined us last week and have been looking forward to meeting you.” Carolyn stands up, approaches Adrian, and shakes his hand. “Here, have a seat,” she said, pointing to a chair devoid of papers, books.
Taking the chair next to him and not the one behind the desk, Carolyn says, “So pleased you stopped by. How are things going?”
It seems so obvious, right? However, it is not so, with all too many folks in leadership positions.
Approachability means your employees feel like they can talk to you. It also means you don’t set up barriers. These barriers could be a constantly closed door, a phone set on do not disturb, the chairs in your office piled with junk or only meeting with people from behind your desk, etc.
So let’s define approachability in measurable terms. Approachable means someone feels welcome in your presence and as if they are your priority. This can translate to the following physical factors:
- Door is frequently open
- Office is arranged to welcome people, not drive them away
- Leader moves to round table and invites visitor to join her.
- Tone of voice is friendly and interested
- Eye contact is forthcoming and genuine
- Seating arrangement is clear of obstacles
- Phone, email sounds are turned off
- Cell phone is turned off and out of sight
In many ways, approachability is exactly what you think it is. The real question about approachability is whether you are projecting it or not. Be sure to consider your literal or figurative barriers before you determining how approachable you are as a leader.
There’s a big difference between finding the perfect job and getting complacent in an easy job, though they’re easily mistaken. Of course, it’s important to feel good about the job you’re in and to avoid environments where you feel unwelcome and unengaged, but you also don’t want to rest on your laurels and stop growing once you feel you’ve reached a comfy spot.
If you’re wondering if you’re too comfortable in your job and need to seek out fresh experiences, ask yourself some of the following questions:
- When was the last time you learned something new?
- When was the last time your routine changed?
- Who was the last new contact or friend you’ve tapped for a talk?
- Where was the last new place you’ve eaten?
You may not be realizing that you haven’t stretched yourself in a while or taken a risk. If you’re not taking risks and getting outside your comfort zone, you’re passing up prime opportunities for learning and growth.
If you’re comfortable being comfortable, the inevitable innovation train may leave the station without you. As technology has accelerated industry change, your lack of change and reliance on the same old same old may cost you your job. Companies keep agile employees who are eager to grow and adapt to changing markets and landscapes.
In leadership, the age-old debate goes something like this: Should you dedicate time to developing your best or your worst skills? Should you focus or broaden your repertoire of tools and assets?
I explore this conundrum in considerable detail in my book Intentional Leadership, but the short answer is to specialize, specialize, specialize.
As a younger woman, I spent long days at my job then returned home to (attempt to) prepare dinner. I was never a good cook, and to this day I can barely boil an egg. I never developed the skills essential to cook well and any phase of cooking is antithetical to my natural inclinations and comfort zones . I find the tiny details and mundanities of cooking bore me, both of which are necessary to successful meal preparation. However, I am comfortable with both my strength and limitation here; I was a successful c-suite executive and a terrible cook.
When it came time to decide on my “encore career,” the whole world lay before me. Some careers require long spans of attention to minute details. However, tasks that need those skills drain my energy rather than fuel me. I wanted to feel energized by my encore career, not enervated. So, I chose a career in executive coaching, a job with constant stimulation, new challenges, and big-picture goals. Distinguishing what invigorates you versus what exhausts you—as well as deciding what to do once you realize you cannot do every job well—distinguishes Intentional from Unintentional leaders.
Intentional Leaders welcome feedback and act on it in some capacity. Unintentional leaders react poorly to hearing feedback, either becoming defensive or ignoring the issues at hand. In my book, I share the four keys to Intentional leadership. The first key is “know thyself.” The process of achieving this level of self-awareness often includes a personality assessment. I use the Workplace Big 5 Profile 4.0™ to highlight what’s important to you as a person, your stress tolerance, your amiability, your creativity, and the sources of your energy. Getting to know yourself also requires some introspection and analysis of past events, both great ones and not-so-great ones. Revisiting prominent life events allows leaders to analyze what worked, what was important to them, and how the events could have gone differently.
Self-awareness will enhance your natural leadership skills. Once you increase your level of self awareness, you can allocate your energy appropriately. Discover your strengths and make them stronger. Determine what drains your energy and find ways to work around them, so they don’t drag you down. Or if you can’t avoid them, use them as an opportunity to stretch, grow and learn something. By choosing to maximize your strengths and deal with your limitations, you will find your natural leadership will attract the followers you need to achieve your highest potential for success.
Why You Get Irritated Easily was an article I published last March that hit a collective nerve. It has 37,158 views; 2,205 likes; 537 shares and 148 comments—only 10,000 less than Richard Branson’s post that day! As the author, the experience was thrilling, shocking, and a little nerve-wracking.
Moreover, I was tempted never to post again.
Why? Most of my previous posts had fewer than 100 views, and a few likes or shares. I did not want to come down from the mountaintop of recognition back to the valley of obscurity. However, eventually, my editor convinced me after a few months to publish again. I am glad she did because it led to some great things for my business.
My first LinkedIn post was on October 30, 2014.
It received 70 views, six likes, four comments.
With that first post, I held my breath as I clicked “publish.” Then, I waited and watched. Well, to be totally honest, I checked on the post about every 15 minutes for two days! I was not exactly thrilled at the response, but my faithful editor kept encouraging me and helping me edit (my least favorite thing). I worked up to two to three posts a week and worked down to only checking the number of views every other day.
This post was my 100th post on LinkedIn. That does not make me an expert on anything but prolificacy, but I am having great fun and learning a lot. I have some thoughts to share with you about it:
Lesson #1: Write something and post it!
Thinking about writing is not enough and that took me awhile. The more LinkedIn posts I published, the more, I realized what incredible freedom this forum provides. The publishing I have done before was mostly professional articles that required extensive research and accurate, detailed references. With LinkedIn, I could pick any topic that came to my head and share my thoughts and opinions without substantial research or even footnotes. In my case, the more I wrote, the more ideas I had for future posts. Why wait like I did? Decide what you want to say, and say it.
Lesson #2: Learn from other LinkedIn writers.
Read posts of influencers and other LinkedIn bloggers. Study their titles and graphics. They give you a splendid idea of how to communicate on the site.
Thinking about writing is not enough…
Lesson #3: Find an editor.
The key to good writing? A good editor. That may be you if you have the skills. If not, the editor might be your spouse (although caution advised here), colleague or savvy neighbor. Whomever you choose to be your editor, decide on your focus, your style, and your strategy. Draft your ideas and then let your editor do their job. However, be sure you pick someone who has the courage to tell you when your idea is good and when it is best to let that idea develop more—or scrap it.
Lesson 4: Try new things and learn new skills.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. Every post taught me something different about writing for LinkedIn. I found out about all the resources to find the right graphic to draw the reader’s attention. When I used one of my cartoons, the views, comments, likes and shares went up. From choosing graphics to writing titles, to using new tools, I found that by learning something new I opened new areas of creativity.
Lesson 5: Respond to every comment.
An unexpected bonus was the fun of receiving and responding to comments. I loved engaging with total strangers around the world, and many of the conversations led to inquiries about my coaching and workplace assessment services. Respond to every comment. Connecting on the site is an important way to engage with your readers. Many times, I use comments as ideas for future posts.
There was another unexpected bonus. I also reviewed all the leadership-related writing I have done over the years for ideas (well over 100,000 words) and decided that there might be a book in there somewhere. The outcome? My new book, Intentional Leadership, published by Motivational Press.
Let me be clear: Posting takes effort and time. Pieces of it were even a chore. Moreover, I learned that regular posting was a must, so missing a week because I did not have any new ideas made me feel a little guilty.
Posting takes effort and time. Pieces of it were even a chore.
I work at home, have a thriving international coaching and assessment practice and a new book. Also, I just became a member of the Forbes Coaches Council, an invitation-only, national group of about 400 coaches. Why was I invited? My 30 years’ experience as a CEO and my ten years as a professional coach did not hurt, but the clincher was “My exceptional LinkedIn profile”!
After almost two and a half years posting on LinkedIn and thousands of words later, was it worth all the effort? No question.
What can blogging on LinkedIn do for you?
Like many people, I was surprised in the early hours of November 9th following the election. It was a good lesson about a lot of things, not the least of which was that surprises happen all the time. The important thing is to be prepared.
Have you considered your plan B when the unexpected happens?
My clients were surprised on election day, too. Here are just two of the emails I received the next day from my executive coaching clients in the U.S.:
“Sorry. I have to attend an emergency meeting regarding election results at our regular time. Can we reschedule?”
“I’ll only be able to talk for half an hour on our call today because there’s an emergency meeting about the possible consequences of the election.”
Those clients who made their appointments could talk about nothing else except their fear of what might happen as a result of the election. It was apparent we were not prepared for this outcome.
My question to my clients all day was, “What else might happen that you haven’t considered possible?” I followed up with “Would you be prepared for it if it did?
For organizations whose mission involves human services, the answer to the question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” is always about the safety of the clients served. It could also be about the health and security of the employees. Then the conversation can shift to issues related to budget, lawsuits or even bad press.
I asked one new CEO of a smaller agency that cares for children about what she thought would be the worst that could happen in her organization. Predictably, she said that a child in their care could suffer a serious injury or die. Then I asked her what she would do if she received a 2 a.m. call that the worst had happened. She related a series of mandatory calls she would make, critical questions she would ask, and appropriate actions she would take.
“Are those written down anywhere?” I asked. There was a pause.
“What if you were away,” I said, “how would your staff know what to do?” She didn’t answer.
I continued. “What if your senior manager were hospitalized tomorrow? What would you do?” There was another long pause.
“Well, that’s highly unlikely, but I guess I’d give the necessary jobs to another manager.”
“Had you ever considered this before?” I asked. She hadn’t, but she was now. And writing it down.
While leaders can’t spend all of their time worrying about what could happen, some attention must be paid to what to do if they do—and especially to those things that seem unlikely or impossible. Not only is it good to have a plan, but also the exciting spillover from having that mental conversation is that an astute leader will also look at ways to make impossible things that are desirable happen, too.
Unlikely and even impossible things happen all the time. It’s not if but when. And when it comes to being prepared, you either will be or you won’t.
The question is if it happened at your organization, would you be prepared?