November 7, 2019

The Need for Accessible Leaders

Think about your favorite leaders. While they might all have some defining characteristics that make them stand out, I’ll venture to guess that accessibility is something they all share in common. 

Being viewed as accessible and approachable is a critical skill every leader should seek to embody.  Being an introvert or extrovert has little to do with it. When we open ourselves up to connect with others, we put ourselves in the position of better networking, career advancement, access to information, etc. As you progress through an organization, this ability becomes even more imperative.  Consider this: if the people you work for, as well as those who work with and for you don’t want to approach you, you’re missing a huge opportunity to gain important information and risk losing professional credibility. Rather, strive to be the kind of person who is perceived as welcoming and inclusive of others and their ideas.  You might think you are radiating authority, but ultimately you are repelling people. This is the polar opposite of the leadership persona you are likely hoping to project.

I’m not suggesting you need to go to the extent of being the friendliest person on your team.  However, if you lean toward the more serious, intense side of the spectrum, the ability to make deep connections is far more preferred to someone who comes off as  intimidating or standoffish. It’s often difficult to gather differing personalities and perspectives even when times are good. However, for leaders and co-workers alike, investing in relationships and connections is imperative to being able to attract and retain talent, deliver results, and create real impact.  That, and it sure makes work a lot more pleasant knowing you have a crew who actively understands and supports you. 

Serving as a leader by definition puts up a bit of a wall between you and your team.  This dynamic necessitates strong leaders to invest more energy in developing strong communication skills, empathy, and trust. When you make connections, you’ll find people let their guard down and share more easily.  They will build more confidence and be more comfortable in your presence.  

Working on building your ability to be more accessible and approachable?  Read on for quick ideas to make fast process. 

  • You had me at HELLO.  Make eye contact.  Learn people’s names.  Pay attention when they speak.  Ask them questions to gain knowledge. Making the person you are speaking with feels like they are the most important person in the world to you at that moment shows you care. 

  • You made a mistake?!  Me too!. Regardless of experience, title or status, we all have flaws and development areas.  When you can admit to yours, you create an environment where your team will be more readily admit theirs.  This ability to put your ego and pride aside will go a long way in strengthening communication and connection among you. 

  • I’d love your thoughts. Being a leader does not come with the expectation that you must have all the answers.  Asking for feedback or help not only allows others to engage and have the chance to shine, but it provides the opportunity for people to experience collaboration and open mindedness. Think about your experiences with leaders.  Isn’t a leader who acknowledges issues and engages help in finding the right solution far more likely to resonate? By doing so, you are also creating an environment where your team will be far more inclined to reach out to you to serve as a sounding board or offer wisdom. 

  • Glass Half Full. No one wants to connect with someone who is consistently negative or is always looking at the downside of a situation.  When you share your support and confidence in your team, and bolster their grit to power through challenging times, you are far more likely to get a better result from them.  Teams connect with leaders who empathize with their situation, and can provide clear vision and support to help power them through to a successful outcome. 

At the end of the day, accessibility builds trust.  Opening yourself to be a more human leader doesn’t just attract more people to want to follow you.  It builds a foundation for them to truly trust and follow you. You capture that feeling, and you become unstoppable. 

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.