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The Business Case for Approachability

  • Karen Alber
  2018

Are you an approachable leader? Your answer matters — believe me. It can mean the difference between success and failure, between high engagement and low morale, and between wondering what is going on and knowing.

Being approachable is imperative to engaging an organization around a vision and building a team that is focused on common goals. Approachability creates transparency, trust, credibility and authenticity. It is essential in today’s world to lead an organization with strong ethics, an inclusive culture and people who do the right thing. This will save your organization both time and money in the long run — particularly when you are able to address small issues before they become total nightmares.

What it looks like

I recall a vice president who ran a very successful supply chain on many fronts. Sure, sometimes there were problems, as is the case with any big, complex organization. Once, a potential manufacturing issue was brewing, and team members involved were assessing whether to call the vice president or wait until they worked on it further. With certain people at the helm, teams will try to fix an issue and avoid getting superiors involved. With this vice president, though, the employees chose to bring it to his attention.

They told him about the challenge they were facing. He listened in a measured manner. While mistakes had indeed been made by his team, the first thing he did was to thank them for sharing the problem right away, rather than waiting until it became a much bigger issue. Then, he asked how he could be of assistance.

I spoke with someone recently who had worked for this leader many years ago. He commented to me: “Wow, do you remember how great he was to work for? You could take the biggest problem to him, and his first response was, ‘Thank you for telling me’ and offering his help.”

Now that’s what I call making an impact and being a memorable leader. Employees who brought bad news to this superior were not only welcomed, but also encouraged to push themselves more, take responsible risks and innovate. They knew this vice president was tough on performance, yet he was also approachable and always there to assist.

Clearing the way

When I took on leadership roles, I kept that vice president in mind. One of my favorite questions became, “How can I help?” Sometimes, I brought pizzas to a go-live; other times I sent a project team a communication of support during a big transformation initiative. I still coached, reprimanded, addressed performance and the like. But with a mindset of my role as a leader being to clear the way, more often than not, I simply took the role of helper.

What’s in this for you, as a leader? To put it simply, because you have avoided all those potential nightmares, you will sleep like a baby. If you are approachable, you will know that people have your back and will bring you important news that otherwise might not make it to your desk. People will trust you. They will feel comfortable telling you what you need to know — at a point when there is still something you can do about it. There is no better lullaby for a supply chain leader.

 

Karen Alber is a partner at The Integreship Group, where she works with rising leaders to master the people parts of their jobs. Prior to this, she served as chief information officer at both MillerCoors and Heinz. Alber may be contacted at karen@integreship.com.

 

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