Whether you're a startup or Fortune 500 executive, you can't be an effective leader if people are hesitant to approach you. Sure, a stoic hard-ass personality exudes authority, but this shield will only push people away--which isn't leading at all.
Here are five simple steps that can make you a more approachable leader.
1. Share your failures
In the past, admitting my failures always seemed like an embarrassing scenario, so I often avoided it. Because I was leading people, I couldn't let them see me sweat.
In reality, this made me appear egoistic. No one wants to talk about their mistakes with someone who can't recognize his own. Putting pride aside and realizing it's OK to admit your failures will only strengthen communication within your company.
2. Step down from the CEO pedestal
When I was an intern at Ernst & Young, the idea of approaching the CEO, Jim Turley, terrified me. But after watching Jim dress up in a goofy DJ outfit and show off his turntable skills at our retreat, I went up and gave him a high five--and that set the tone for our relationship.
Ten years later, I did a Backstreet Boys skit with our first five employees at our 2014 company retreat. Jim helped me realize that letting my guard down encourages others to do the same, and it shows people I'm human, too.
3. Be transparent and real
When we started Influence & Co., one of our core values was transparency. We actually tallied the number of times we said "transparent" on our whiteboard. But as our company's grown, we've learned that transparency is more about honesty.
It means having difficult conversations about how we can improve or telling a client why the relationship isn't working out. It might be hard at first, but people will grow to appreciate your openness and trust that your words are genuine.
4. Get outside your leadership bubble
I challenge leaders to gain experience whenever possible. From attending a new sporting event to simply reading a novel outside your interest area, making a conscious effort to expose yourself to different ideas and facets of life will help you become a more relatable person.
I'm not generally drawn to fiction books, but I decided to read some Harry Potter books in my down time. Although they were far outside the realm of business publications I normally read, I truly enjoyed them. And when forming relationships, it's funny how often a Harry Potter reference--particularly the term "muggle"--has come up.
Learning something new each week is a great way to build your personal knowledge bank and relate to employees, potential clients, or partners on an individual level. Go outside your comfort zone, no matter how small the effort,and you'll find your conversations naturally leading to more memorable interactions.
5. Make the first move
In our early startup days, it was easy--and necessary--to interact with every employee on a daily basis. As we've onboarded numerous employees and my role has shifted away from operations, I often forget that simply saying hello to an employee or recognizing people for their work can go a long way.
Once you establish those initial touchpoints, people feel more comfortable coming to you when there's a serious problem, and showing your appreciation provides an extra motivation boost.
Your status as a leader inevitably creates a barrier with new employees or unfamiliar faces, and a harsh personality or a lack of time only fortifies it. Put yourself in employees' shoes, and take small steps to open the lines of communication. Then, you can break down those walls and capitalize on the knowledge of your entire organization.
John Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a company that provides a turnkey thought leadership solution for companies.