Many leaders evolve in their careers by growing their technical skills and gaining challenging work experiences. They focus on fine-tuning the strategy and execution of their job responsibilities, making sure they perform their tasks with more and more precision. Whether they are individual contributors or manage a team, they often are so determined to meet their deadlines with great deliverables that they miss a second critical part of leading: the people piece.
Both elements of leadership are essential to being influential and impactful, yet many leaders spend more time on the technical aspects of their jobs and overlook developing their relationship skills. It may appear that their performance is based on how well they complete a project or assignment, but the truth is that leaders’ success also depends on their ability to interact with others. To build effective work connections, leaders need the relationship skills to manage up, collaborate and motivate others. These skills begin with being approachable.
Being approachable opens the door for leaders to navigate their careers more successfully, as it shows their managers and colleagues that they matter. When leaders are approachable, they help create a culture of openness and innovation, because team members feel empowered to step outside of their comfort zones with safety.
With that goal in mind, here are six steps you and the leaders you support can take to become more approachable — and, therefore, more effective.
1. Identify Your Strengths and Blind Spots
In order to be more approachable, self-awareness is essential. Then, when we understand where others look to us for help, we can offer our knowledge and talents in those areas. A great deal has been written about the value of playing to our strengths, which also includes sharing those gifts with the people we work with. One way to learn about our strengths and blind spots is by using a self- or 360-degree assessment. These tools can reveal important insights into what drives our actions and decisions.
2. Listen With a Strategic Ear
How important is listening? It’s everything! The people we connect with each day need to know that we will listen to them without interrupting and without judgment. Non-verbal cues, such as good eye contact, welcoming facial expressions and body language, are important. Finally, to be approachable, we need to ask empowering questions that shows others we are focused on the conversation.
3. Communicate With Clarity, Honesty and Respect
The way we share our messages and thoughts can make or break the way people in connect with us. We need to be clear in our choice of words, the tone and volume of our voice, our hand gestures, and our body language. We also must speak with sincerity to be believed.
To be approachable, we must respond to an issue that is troubling someone by displaying empathy and respect. Even if we don’t agree or have a different perspective, it’s important to express honest feedback while validating the other person. Communication is a two-way dialogue that allows both parties to share without attack.
4. Make Yourself Available
We can sometimes run into problems when we have a constant stream of visitors and don’t speak up to rearrange a more beneficial time to meet. Approachable leaders demonstrate that they are happy to carve out time to talk through challenges as well as accomplishments. Although they welcome people to meet with them, however, they also create boundaries. For example, if a team member asks to meet with you and you are busy, tell that individual that you are happy to connect, and then offer a better time.
5. Keep Biases and Judgment Outside the Door
Being approachable means entering into a conversation without judgment or preconceived ideas. Before having a discussion with someone, it’s important that we think about our initial feelings about that person. Once we can identify and name any bias we may be feeling, we can take action to put it aside beforehand. For people to trust us to be fair, we must acknowledge to ourselves what might impact our response before we even hear another person share his or her concerns.
6. Be Vulnerable by Sharing Mistakes or Missteps
To build rapport and connection with team members and colleagues, we must be willing to share our mistakes. By opening up about our missteps and lessons learned, we show that we are human — and in the end, it is our humanity that makes us approachable leaders. Being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness but, rather, a demonstration of strong leadership.