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How to be an approachable leader

Regardless of what team you’re leading, being approachable as a leader is crucial for any team to thrive. Approachable leaders foster an environment of respect, encourage open communication and collaboration, and build teams that work together harmoniously. Moreover, an approachable leader is someone who has gained the trust of their employees—something pivotal in effective leadership. The Cambridge Dictionary defines an approachable person as someone “friendly and easy to talk to.” But how exactly does one become an approachable leader in the modern workplace setting? Humanicity has put together a practical guide for the busy everyday leader. Here are 6 ways you can become a more approachable leader:

  1. Pay attention to your employees
    While this may seem simple, it can be challenging for leaders to practice when deadlines are near. However, even with impending deadlines, it’s important to make time for your employees by paying attention to their wins, concerns, and progress. Learn about your employees’ interests and desires and strive to support them where possible. For example, you can place them in roles that are best suited to their talents and growth opportunities. Leaders who intentionally make time for their employees and get to know them demonstrate genuine care—a step towards being approachable. When leaders pay attention to their employees, they lead with a human-centred approach because they’re putting people at the forefront of the organization.
  2. Be an active listener
    Simply making time for your employees isn’t enough on its own. You have to listen actively and respectfully as well. When a team member is talking, really make a conscious effort to take in what they’re saying and listen. In essence, active listening is emotional validation because you are acknowledging a person’s experiences and thoughts as valid. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but rather it highlights that you care about their emotional experience and see it as valid. According to researchers from Northern Kentucky University, active listening skills can be learned. Just simply repeating someone’s last few words when you respond to them can make that person feel validated in a conversation. This is especially useful during a disagreement because it gives you extra time to process what they said and helps them feel heard. As a leader, you can encourage your employees to also practice active listening by repeating someone’s last few words.
  3. Stay dependable 
    According to Forbes, “An approachable leader is one who is reliable and consistent.” Making space for your employees to approach you shows them you are someone who they can depend on. Leaders exemplify consistency when they follow through on their own commitments and responsibilities. A dependable leader is someone who will work with their team to find solutions when challenges appear and provide them with clear instructions. Make sure the tasks you assign your team are reasonable and fair and ensure prompt communication to avoid confusing your employees. Transparency is key when it comes to being reliable, so even if things don’t go as planned, ensuring open communication is essential in staying dependable.
  4. Let your actions speak louder than your words
    You cannot establish reliability as a leader if your actions don’t align with your words. Show your employees you are trustworthy and instill their confidence in you by ensuring you mean what you say. At the end of the day, it’s your actions and the impact you have on each member that will be remembered most by your team. So, hold yourself accountable to the same standards you expect others to follow and lead by example. When your team sees you as someone they can rely on, they’ll know they can trust your ability to support them when they inevitably face challenges. 
  5. Don’t jump to conclusions 
    It can be frustrating when we encounter challenges in the workplace, but an approachable leader should refrain from jumping to conclusions about people or playing the blame game. Instead of assigning blame to a person, focus your energy on problem-solving and team building. You can still hold people accountable for their actions and not leave them to fend for themselves by working to find solutions together. Oftentimes, when leaders jump to conclusions, they create unnecessary conflict within a team and hinder overall progress. It is okay to take a step back, consider the variables, and approach your team members later to avoid making poor decisions at the moment.
  6. Check your body language 
    Your body language and the nonverbal cues you emanate influence how your team members perceive you. Sometimes, our body language can unintentionally make others feel intimidated to approach us. Research shows that when verbal and non-verbal communication clash, people tend to rely on non-verbal clues to interpret the real meaning of a communication. This makes it even more important to ensure your body language is conveying what you intend it to. Maintaining an open posture by standing straight and keeping your shoulders back can convey confidence and openness, thus encouraging others to approach you. While making eye contact is part of your body language because it shows you are paying attention to what the other person is saying, there are numerous reasons why it may be challenging for some individuals. For someone from a different cultural background or someone with social anxiety or autism, making eye contact can be uncomfortable. However, if you struggle with making eye contact, you can utilize other forms of nonverbal communication. For instance, nodding your head in agreement, repeating their last few words, and asking questions are simple ways to compensate for a lack of eye contact.

Being an approachable leader is essential in fostering a positive and collaborative work environment. While these steps can help you become more approachable, don’t be afraid to tell your team members directly that they can come to you when they need support. Sometimes, verbal confirmation is all we need to feel comfortable approaching someone.