Fi Likeable Leaders

How to Be an Approachable Leader

“People leave managers, not companies,” is the mantra of Marcus Buckingham’s book on leadership[1]. And if I were to simplify this message even further, it would be to this: people are more likely to remain working for leaders that are approachable and inclusive. 

In a time where workers are consistently changing jobs, retention strategies have become an integral part of many organizations. And even for those companies who have already placed a focus on retaining talent, they are now being faced with the struggle of combatting the rise of quiet quitting. The key to having an impact on both these issues lies in the hands of leaders – or, more specifically, in their ability to be approachable.

The idea of being an approachable leader has outdated connotations of being perceived as ‘weak’. Yet, Visiers study found that the second most commonly cited attribute of a bad manager was being unapproachable (47%).

The fact of the matter is that being welcoming and in a position of power will allow you to form real bonds with your team and be in tune with the culture being fostered within your company’s walls.

Achieving approachability is easier by breaking it down into three aspects:

  1. Breaking down hierarchies

A simple culturally appropriate greeting is one of the oldest and most effective ways to be perceived as a welcoming and approachable person. Leaders who recognize their team members have a 63% higher chance of retaining them, so by making that effort to authentically greet your employees every morning and speak to them, they will be much more likely to want to remain working with you.

  1. Knowing your team

Good leaders will take the time to know all the names of their team members. Great leaders will take it that one step further, and actively seek out ways to connect authentically by asking open-ended questions to learn about their interests beyond work.  You can encourage your team to open up more by being transparent yourself - discuss your interests and tell stories about your life. Research from a team at Harvard University found that asking questions about people increases the likelihood of them having a positive impression of you. By demonstrating that you are making time to know the team members who work for you, you are reinforcing that they are valued and seen as individuals.

  1. Having an open door

I remember giving an office tour to a new HR executive that I was trying to recruit, and when I walked past the CEO’s door, I noticed that it was wide open and he was in there at his desk. I gave an impromptu knock and poked my head in, and after a brief exchange I introduced him to the potential hire.  Immediately he invited the both of us in and dropped what he was doing, and the three of us sat down for a good half hour as he got to know this HR exec.

All these years later I still remember this because I was struck by how proud it made me feel that the CEO took time out of his busy schedule to greet the potential new hire authentically and to learn about his background, despite not being on his schedule. Making a point of having your door always open – literally and metaphorically – can make employees feel they are invited to speak to those higher up rather than waiting to receive permission to seek their attention.

Interacting with these three components will help inspire genuine trust in you as a manager. There is always a risk for those in higher positions to be ‘cut out of the loop’ when it comes to finding the root cause of issues in the workplace, and so by being someone who team members feel they can trust, this risk is significantly mitigated.

However, in this endeavour, striking a balance is key. If you are seen to know more about one member of the team over another, this can come across as favouritism.  Therefore, it is important to be aware of how much time you spend formally and informally with each member of your team.  Managing the extent of your relationships with each team member is crucial and needs to be consistent and inclusive, as you have a duty to coach, develop and lead team members of all backgrounds and styles.

When it comes down to it, being present and front-line-facing can go a long way. If a leader is seen to be the wizard behind the curtain, then team members will feel a lack of motivation working under them. Make a point of getting to know new team members as they are onboarded, as well as checking in periodically to show that your interest is authentic. This will help nurture an overall inclusive culture in the workplace, and boost the productivity and engagement of employees, which leads to higher client satisfaction and higher operational performance.

It all starts from the top – if you are interested in discussing approachable leadership, I can be reached at marty@orgshakers.com


[1] Buckingham, M., 2001. First, Break All The Rules. London: Simon & Schuster Ltd.

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