Mar 112014

Is Being “Lonely at the Top” a Way of Leadership?

Being personable is a leadership characteristic and strength. It means being able to put others at ease and relate to a variety of people. Being skilled at being approachable means relating well to all kinds of people – up, down, sideways, inside and outside of the organization. It means building constructive and effective relationships. Importantly, it can also mean using diplomacy and tack, which can be beneficial in defusing high-tension situations.

Many managers and leaders see remoteness as a good thing, thinking that “keeping a distance is good,” or “I don’t want to be warm and fuzzy.” In many cases, leaders are aware they aren’t “a people person,” are not overly concerned because they thought “work was work,” or take the position that they are “not here to win a popularity contest.” The idea that keeping a healthy distance is good leadership is “old school.”

Adopting a segregated style is not healthy. People won’t know what to make of it, which can lead to more stress, disengage co-workers, and make them reluctant to approach you with information that may be critical for you to lead. A key to getting along with people is to hold back our personal reactions and focus on others first. It’s about working from the outside in.

Managing the first three minutes of a relationship is important. The tone is set and first impressions are formed. It is important we work on being open and approachable—listening, sharing, understanding and comforting.

Being a good listener is also key. It means listening without interrupting, asking clarifying questions, and not instantly judging. It’s also about having effective non-verbal communications skills, appearing and sounding relaxed, smiling, being calm, and maintaining good eye contact. When speaking, it’s important to keep an open body posture, speak in a paced and pleasant tone, and avoid being forceful or going into too much detail. It’s also important to avoid glancing at our watch, fiddling with paperwork, or giving the impression of “I’m busy.”

Arrogant people devalue others and their contributions, making them feel diminished, rejected, and upset. To avoid this, read your audience. Learn what people look like when they are uncomfortable with you. Do they cringe? Do they back up? Do they stand outside your door hoping not to be invited in? Make a point of reading others, especially during the first three minutes you engage with them.

Leadership means servicing other people’s needs. Being personable may not be the most important aspect of leadership, but it can contribute significantly to your downfall. The good news is that people can change. First we have to acknowledge that change is wanted and necessary. Then we must take the necessary actions to become more approachable. The essence of approachability starts with attitude. Being professional and approachable are mutually exclusive.

In many cases being unapproachable can be a blind spot, something coaching can help identify and resolve. If you feel coaching or leadership development can benefit you or your team, please contact me. Even highly talented individuals can be rendered ineffective if they don’t develop their leadership characteristics.

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