One of my favorite questions of a leader that I am coaching is, “When was the last time someone brought you bad news?” You may think that not hearing about the challenges that your people are facing is an indicator that everything is going well, and there are no challenges. I think just the opposite.
Some years ago, as the father of teenagers, it occurred to me one day that all I was hearing from my kids was the good things that were happening. There were no challenges, no issues, and no bad news. At the same time, I was leading a team of salespeople who were exhibiting the same communication characteristics. It then occurred to me that teenagers and salespeople have a lot in common. I also recall that I was once a teenager, and I was once a salesperson. There are issues, there are challenges, and there is the occasional bad news.
Are They Holding Back, Disengaged, or Both?
If people you are trying to influence are not sharing the hard stuff with you, then you need to ask yourself why. On the other hand, if the people you are most trying to influence are comfortable sharing the bad news with you, then you are most likely leading a highly engaged team. The difference between these two states of engagement often hinges on how approachable you are in the eyes of the people you lead.
Approachable leaders, whether leading at home or work, engage their followers at a high level and increase their performance and their results.
The 5 Characteristics of Approachable, High Engagement Leaders
Authenticity – approachable leaders are real people. They don’t pretend to have it all together when they don’t. They don’t perform for others; they are comfortable just being themselves with all the good and bad that comes with that.
Consistency of Mood – It’s tempting to over celebrate the good and over condemn the bad. If you exhibit large mood swings, people will avoid doing or saying anything to “set you off.” Mind the gap between stimulus (someone sharing bad news) and your response. If there is little or no gap, you are reacting, not responding, and that rarely goes well.
Confess Mistakes – I was wondering why my teenage son did not share his mistakes or challenges with me when it occurred to me that I never shared my own mistakes or challenges with him (or anyone). I seemed like I was perfect, and the last thing anyone wants to do is share struggles with a perfect person. While I didn't mean to come off as perfect, I was trying not to seem weak, and that’s what I thought mistakes said about me. Sharing mistakes open the door to what Dr. John Maxwell calls “Failing Forward.” Once we began to share openly, we can help each other to learn and grow.
Ability to Forgive – people who are not forgiving of the shortcomings of others will not do well in the drive to be more approachable. If you ask for forgiveness and easily forgive those who have wronged you, then you do not allow walls to be constructed between you and others. No walls mean easier access. Easier access means higher engagement.
Others Oriented – if all of life is about you, then you are not an approachable person. Approachable people value others and make them feel valued. If you put other people first, then it becomes easy to celebrate with those who celebrate and mourn with those who mourn. Someone else being successful does not take anything away from you.
One of the easiest, but sometimes challenging things you can do to appear more approachable is the SMILE! People are drawn to people who greet them with a smile!
When you increase your approachability, you will increase your influence with others. Increasing your influence will increase their desire to engage with you in whatever you are trying to accomplish. Higher engagement equals improved performance equals better results.