By Ryan Scholz
The worst assumption that managers can make about their area of responsibility is that they know everything that is going on in the department. In reality, they only know what their people want them to know or think they need to know.
Managers who are approachable will find out about problems and issues before they become full blown crises. The people who work for an approachable manager will challenge the manager if they feel that he or she is going to make a big mistake. They will do their best to keep the manager out of trouble.
Here is an example that I use in my work with managers to illustrate the point. Im walking down the street not paying attention to where Im walking and am just about to step in a pile of dog poop. My employees observe me and have three choices of how they respond. One choice is to stop me before I step into it. The second is to watch me step in it and then say how sorry they were that it happened. And the third choice is to watch me step in it and then cheer. My next question is how would your employees respond?
Managers who are not approachable will have more and bigger problems than those who are approachable. If the manager is not approachable, the employees tend to cover up problems, either consciously or unconsciously.
Some of the reasons that managers may be perceived as unapproachable include:
– Always being in a hurry and not taking the time to acknowledge people. And in those situations where they do attempt to interact with subordinates they give the impression that their mind is on something else.
– Shooting the messenger. If employees are made to feel embarrassed or criticized for bringing bad news, then they will be less likely to do it in the future.
– Most of the feedback that the manager gives to employees is negative. Visits to the workplace are usually to deal with a problem and to find out who is to blame. The manager rarely gives positive, face-to-face recognition.
– The manager spends most of his or her time trying to make a good impression on those above him or her in the organization. The face they put on for higher level people is totally different from the one that their employees see on a daily basis.
– Most of the interaction with the manager happens on the managers turf. This not only includes the managers office, but also includes conference rooms as well.
Becoming approachable involves changing behavior and habits. Here are a few ideas on ways that a manager can change his or her behavior to become more approachable:
– Make interacting with employees on their turf a priority. I have been responsible for managing organizations of several hundred people. A goal that I always had was to have a face-to-face interaction with each person in my organization at least once per month. If I had a smaller organization, I would expect a more frequent interaction. For those managers with larger organizations, less frequent is probably needed. The key is to have a goal and stick to it.
– In the 1970s, Bill Hewitt and Dave Packard created a management style that was known as management by walking around (MBWA). It consisted of personal involvement with employees, exhibiting good listening skills, and recognizing people for doing the right thing. Under Hewlett and Packard, MBWA has a purpose. When I coach managers on this subject, I emphasize that their visits through the workplace need to be done with a purpose. Otherwise, it is just management by meandering around.
– When engaging employees, avoid the standard how it is going question. Instead, ask open ended questions that cannot be answered with one wordyes, no, alright , bad and so forth. Engage people in a conversation to find out what is really on their minds.
– Be sensitive to non-verbal clues that you may be sending to your people about your interest in them. Stopping a conversation to answer a cell phone call or constantly looking at your watch tells people subconsciously that you are not really interested in what they are saying.
– Greet people was if you are genuinely glad to see them.
– Find ways to give some form of positive feedback each day. Make the feedback specific and use it to reinforce the positive behaviors and outcomes that you want to see from people in your organization.
– All of us are just people, regardless of the position or title that we have. Managers who are approachable have the self confidence and self esteem to show their human side. They dont have the need to wear a mask in the work place.
Are you approachable? Are you getting ready to step in it? What would your employees do?
About the Author: Ryan Scholz works with leaders whose success is dependent on getting commitment and high performance from others. He is author of Turning Potential into Action: Eight Principles for Creating a Highly Engaged Work Place. For more information, visit his web site at