Is Your Unapproachability Impacting Your Ability To Lead?

You are thinking that you are meeting all your work requirements when you receive feedback that your team believes you are hard to approach and unfriendly.

If you are like most of my clients, this news comes as a surprise, and even a little hurt, as they never considered themselves to be anything but friendly, and just focusing on getting the work done.

Some of them may not be intentionally difficult to approach but may be introverted or shy.  Others new to their leadership positions and just not aware that they have the responsibility of creating an environment for teamwork. 

Occasionally one is afflicted with RDF or RBF (look them up :) and have no idea that their facial expressions. 

Still, others can be full-blown buttheads and are genuinely unpleasant, and need to make some serious changes to survive.

Are any of these scenarios one you can relate too?


Perception Is Reality

If you have gotten this feedback the first thing to do is take it as constructive feedback, thank them for giving it to you.  The next thing to do is access its accuracy and if there’s a need for action.  Seek frankness and honesty. 

Does the feedback come from your entire team, people you work with every day or a trusted ally?  Alternatively, is it from a single source you barely know and whom you have had little interaction?

The point here isn’t to validate the feedback, that doesn’t matter as perception is the reality, it’s to access if there’s a genuine problem that requires fixing.  The larger the volume of feedback or the closer the source, the higher the probability of its accuracy.  

The point of accessing the feedback isn’t about finding the source so you can confront them, or perpetually put off making a change as you continually get more data.  It is about acknowledging the problem, its depth, so you can begin the process of fixing it.

Save yourself the time in debate whether or not you are difficult to approach and look at it from the perspective of your personal brand, all that matters is the perception of some of your most important customers; your team, your employees, your boss.  They are telling you how they feel you so if you want better work from your team, fewer errors, or better chance at promotion, you might want to consider taking this on as a professional development project.

Use these to figure out how bad and pervasive the issue is when it is most likely to appear so you can start to put a strategy together to fix it.

Use your trusted workplace friends to confirm and give you the brutal honesty of what it is actually like

So you have received the feedback, so at some level, there is some perception, but how much and how bad is it?

Ok-You have confirmed the perception of aloofness, now what?  What’s in it for you to make the change?


Why Should You Care?

You remember the naked emperor right?  Well, not much has changed on that front in the last 1000 years.  If you want your people to feel like they can tell you the truth of what they think, then you need to create an environment where they feel comfortable doing just that.  That environment starts with the look on your face. 

By being more approachable, you get more of what you want, more business, more opportunities, more chances for exciting projects, and more chances for promotion.

Moreover, less of what you don’t want, costly mistakes, missed opportunities, lost ideas to innovate upon, and higher employee turnover.

Think about what it is going to cost you personally when a preventable mistake occurs that either result in high expense, embarrassment, or pain.  Imagine how all this can be avoided by your creating an environment that makes people feel comfortable bringing things to your attention.  

Today’s knowledge work and innovation-driven cultures require leaders who can build collaborative environments, respond to feedback, and are approachable.  Fixing this if it’s a problem for you now or learning the soft skills required will also make you more likely to be promoted. 


How to fix it

You got the feedback on your approachability, you’ve accessed its validity and level of impact, seen the personal benefit to addressing it, so now is the time to fix it.

Start by publicly acknowledging both the issue and the general feedback itself.  Don’t make excuses for it, own it.

You can undoubtedly humanize it.  If the reason for your unapproachability is that you are dealing with a personal issue, say so.   If it’s because you are just shy, say so.  People like leaders that are human too.  However, you ultimately still have to change your behavior. 

To do that start by creating both a physical environment and processes that make it easy for people to approach you and is welcoming. 

  • The easiest way to make yourself more approachable is to get out of your office and go and see people where they are. Go to them, don’t make them come to you.
  • If you have an office, change it to invite approachability.  Don’t meet people across your desk, meet them at a separate table, or at least sit on the same side of your desk.
  • Have an open door policy, and keep your door open.  If you have too many people you are responsible for, I am talking like more than a team, and it’s impacting your work, have scheduled open door times.
  • Use collectibles or work appropriate tchotchke in your office to show some personality and humor.
  • Be fully present in your dealings with people.  Don’t talk to them while you multitask on your cell phone or over your computer screen. 
  • Make eye contact even if it hurts.  It will get easier. 
  • Watch your body language.  Nothing new here, be open in your posture, face the person you are talking too, don’t cross your arms.
  • Also, if you have RFB or RDF be aware of it and try not to scowl all the time.  Get botox if you need it.
  • Dress in a way that makes people comfortable.  If you are the only suit in the office maybe it is time to lose it.  You don’t have to overcompensate and be inauthentic, but you want to make people comfortable in your presence. 
  • What if you need time to focus on your work and really can't be bothered with this human stuff?  Look at something like the Pomodoro effect.  Use the break times to be approachable.

These are just a few painless ways to increase your approachability at work.  Increasing your approachability will make you a better leader, get more good work from your teams, and help create a culture of collaboration and innovation. 

Let me know what you think.  If you have additional ideas, I’d love to hear them.