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.
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?
The inspiration for the cartoon above came from a situation occurring in my office one morning several decades ago. I could hardly wait to get to work as I had yet another of my endless new ideas and wanted to share it with my team.
“Urgent meeting,” I said to my staff. “My office, now.”
They dutifully filed in, dropping everything else they were working on, and sat at attention.
“I had this fabulous idea, and I want to tell you about it,” I began, and then blathered on for a few minutes. When I finished, I asked them, “Well? What do you think? Be honest!”
The usually noisy group was quiet. I remember a lot of blinking eyes looking back at me for a while. The newest member of the team finally spoke up.
“You’re telling us that you think your idea is brilliant, and now you want us to give you honest feedback…and you’re the boss?”
A senior member of the team guffawed. Someone else giggled, and then, we all cracked up.
Apparently, I wasn’t looking for honest feedback. I wanted them to tell me what a brilliant idea it was. Only, as it turns out, it wasn’t such a hot notion, and (as usual) would have meant piles of extra work since it wasn’t in the plan with which we had all agreed.
When one person called me out—without much concern for the boss’s ego I might add–we were all spared from a massive, foolish, group-think decision based on my creativity gone unleashed and my role as the authority figure.
But the deeper lesson here is care is needed when asking for feedback. A climate of trust has to be present before anyone is willing to be honest about anything.
Feedback assumes various forms: negative, positive, constructive, and useless (insulting and suggestions for kissing unmentionable body parts, too, but that’s another post). There are some advantages of giving and receiving feedback. I learned these benefits when I received honest, direct, caring but no-nonsense assessments of my ideas or leadership. The few people in my life brave enough to confront me with behaviors contradictory to my stated values taught me the most.
I also learned the benefits a great deal more when I began to give honest, direct, and caring feedback. Most people want feedback, and when given correctly, they can learn and grow from it. When given incorrectly, feedback can be and often is, destructive and disrespectful. The bottom line: it backfires, and you don’t get the results you want.
Further complicating this environment of truth, however, is if you’re the boss, it’s doubtful anyone has ever been or ever will be entirely honest. It’s not how we’re wired. The U.S. culture does not embrace the one so frequently found in Asia, “Never speak while the father is speaking.” Regardless, we believe authority demands respect. She that has the power is the boss. So…respect her ideas, dummy!
It’s up to the leader to set the example for proper giving, asking for and receiving honest feedback and the culture where people can trust they won’t suffer punishment for being honest. The words you choose, the tone, the facial expression, the body language and your record—all convey either directly or indirectly whether we want the truth, half the truth or flattery, and obsequiousness.
What kind of climate do you present to your team when asking for feedback: One that promotes honest feedback or one that encourages sycophantic babble?