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5 Characteristics of Approachable Leaders

By Carla | April 6, 2021
5 Characteristics of Approachable Leaders

When was the last time someone brought you bad news? You may think that not hearing about the challenges, setbacks, and failures the people on your team face indicates that everything is going well; however, there could be a bigger problem in play.

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 led a team of salespeople who were exhibiting the same communication characteristics. Since I was once a teenager and a salesperson, I know that it is not all rainbows and lollipops; there are issues, challenges, and the occasional bad news.

Are They Holding Back, Disengaged, or Both?

If the people you are trying to lead are not sharing the hard stuff with you, you need to ask yourself why. Are they nervous or scared of how you might react? Does it require courage or the right timing to have a challenging conversation with you? How approachable are you?

Approachable leaders, whether leading at home or work, engage their followers and establish a high level of trust and a safe environment where difficult conversation can occur. If you feel you need to improve how approachable your team feels you are, consider the following ways to grow:

The 5 Characteristics of Approachable, High Engagement Leaders

  1. 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 being themselves with all the good and bad that come with that.
  2. Consistency – It’s tempting to over celebrate the good and over condemn the bad. If you exhibit large swings in your emotions, people will avoid doing or saying anything to “set you off.” Mind the gap between stimulus (someone sharing good or bad news) and your response. If there is little or no gap, you react, not responding, and that rarely goes well.
  3. Confess Mistakes – I wondered why my teenage son did not share his mistakes or challenges with me when it suddenly occurred to me that I never shared my own mistakes or challenges with him (or anyone). It seemed to him that I was perfect, and he had flaws. Who wants to confess their faults to 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 John Maxwell calls “Failing Forward.” Once we begin to share openly, we can help each other to learn and grow.
  4. Ability to Forgive – people who are not forgiving of others’ shortcomings 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.
  5. 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 to SMILE! People are drawn to people who greet them with a smile! When you smile, you seem friendly, and when you are friendly, people are drawn to you.

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.


Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.

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