Apporachability by Dr. Robert Gerwig

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The directors were milling around outside the VP’s office, each AFRAID to knock on his door. Though a critical issue was costing the corporation $1,000s every minute, seconds ticked by and turned into minutes. Exasperated, one director finally said, “Fine, if no one else will knock on his door, I’ll let him know.” And with that, she turned around, headed back to her office and sent the VP an email.

This was a business-critical issue that needed immediate and direct communication between the VP and the 5 directors. And though this story may sound far-fetch, it happened. Each of these directors was a seasoned, experienced, and capable leader. Each was afraid of the VP and his temper. He often “shot the messenger.”

Are you APPROACHABLE? … Do others in your organization find it easy or difficult to approach you? With problems? With good news? With issues?

Some leaders (well, people in positions of leadership anyway) are intimidating. Some are mean. Some are hateful. Some don’t “have time.” Some don’t listen. Some are quick to assign blame on the messenger. Some don’t care. For these reasons (and more), some leaders are not approachable.

To be an effective leader, you must make yourself available. You must not shoot the messenger. You must listen. You must create an environment of approachability. The consequences others experience when they bring you news/information (good or bad) will determine their likelihood of a repeat performance.

Make it difficult, uncomfortable, or punishing and your subordinates will be less likely to keep you in the loop. Be approachable and provide positive consequences (active listening, taking action, reinforcing quick communication on critical issues, etc.) will increase the likelihood your organization will keep you updated with key news. It is not always easy to receive “bad” news well, yet that is the call of the effective leader.

I wonder how many battles/wars, corporate disasters, and political crises would have turned out differently IF a leader had been approachable. Think about the impact caused by delays in decision-making (when every second counts) because subordinates were afraid to wake up the boss, the general or the president. When they were afraid to share bad news and delayed. When they changed the facts (a bit) in an effort to lessen the negative consequences administered by the leader.

Each time critical information is withheld, delayed, or changed, decisions are changed. Timing is changed. History is changed. If you want to be an effective, world-class leader, be APPROACHABLE.

What are some examples you’ve seen (positive or negative) of a leader’s approachability?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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