How to be an approachable leader


Create a Culture of Open Communication

I watched as the leader of a large organization stepped on the elevator. We were many stories up, and he put his hand in the door to force them open and ambled in to join. I wasn’t the only one who recognized him. A young man clearly did and he tried to make small talk, but the man responded with a gruffness that screamed “back off”. The young man didn’t give up easily, trying yet again to politely make small talk.

You could feel the tension in the moving car. The “leader” ignored the comments and stepped off the elevator a few floors later without a sentence.

It was awkward and I made a joke about someone having a bad day.

The lesson for me was about being approachable. Even if my day is not going well, I vowed to never be that way if I could avoid it. I’m sure that this “leader” would be horrified if he saw a video of his behavior. No one really wants to act that way.



The Leadership Importance of Approachability

Being approachable isn’t just a trait that makes you a likable person. It’s also a crucial factor in leadership. By being approachable, you can create a culture of open communication within your organization, which can improve morale, foster collaboration, and increase productivity. However, learning how to be approachable isn’t always easy.


So how do you work on becoming more approachable?


Here a few ideas to consider:


Share your own mistakes.

Openly sharing your own mistakes or challenges is a transparent way to signal that perfection is impossible, and that we must all be tolerant of mistakes. If an organization or person makes no mistakes at anything, then they are not taking enough risk. Sharing your own mistakes builds trust.


Be an active listener.

Approachable leaders are great listeners. They listen to their team members’ ideas, concerns, and feedback, and act on them. To become an active listener, you need to focus on the person speaking and avoid distractions. Show empathy and understanding by asking clarifying questions. It helps if you restate their ideas to confirm your understanding. Provide the team with a safe space to share ideas.



Be human.

As a leader, it’s essential to be professional, but this doesn’t mean you can’t show your human side. Being approachable means being authentic and vulnerable, and sharing some of your personal experiences and challenges with your team members can help to build rapport. It’s also essential to recognize that your team members are humans too, and they have personal lives and issues that may impact their work.


Provide feedback.

Approachable leaders are not afraid to provide feedback to their team members. Feedback should be specific, actionable, and timely, and should focus on behaviors. Remember that feedback is a two-way conversation, and you should also be willing to receive feedback. That opens up communication and creates an opportunity for everyone to learn.


Foster collaboration.

Approachable leaders encourage collaboration within their teams. They recognize that no one has all the answers and that the best solutions come from working together. Encourage your team to collaborate by providing opportunities for team members to work on projects together, sharing knowledge and expertise, and celebrating team successes.



If you want to be a gruff, distant, and unapproachable leader, copy the rudeness of the man on the elevator. Be distant; emanate a tough exterior; don’t engage with someone talking with you; be rude. If you want to be a true leader, then realize that being approachable is not a one-time item that can be crossed off the checklist. It requires effort. Remember that being approachable starts with being real, building trust, being an active listener, providing feedback, and fostering collaboration.






Image Credit: Jason Dent

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