Be Visible and Approachable

Quick Summary: Take time for people instead filling your time with activities that are not truly important.


As your organization gets larger and you have more customers, it is easy to slowly build walls around yourself and others in your organization.  Although you are always on stage, figure out how to step off-stage and mingle.  The corresponding interaction will be the most valuable activity that you will be involved with all day.

The article in this series “Always on Stage” discusses the fact that the CEO is constantly being observed.  Individuals constantly are listening for what is said and what is not said.  They watch for body language, focus or lack of focus, and virtually every other discernable physical attribute that they can sense.  With this “ream” of data, they quickly draw their own conclusions based on their own biases and preconceptions.  We all do this.  Probably one half of the twenty-four news channels are spent with experts commenting on what public figures “meant” that does not necessarily reflect what they actually said. 

Being visible is very different than being on stage.  Similarly, being approachable is also different than either attribute.  Consider two extremes:  the President of the United States and a close colleague.  Clearly, the President is always on stage, even when stepping on or off of Air Force One.  They are often physically visible but not in any close, intimate way for anyone except their closest advisors and relatives.  Finally, they are rarely approachable in any non-scripted, open-dialogue setting.  These comments are not meant to be judgmental.  They are only general observations.  For a variety of reasons, they may be justified. At the other extreme, consider your interactions with a close colleague that you spend your entire day with, perhaps sitting only a few feet away from them in a low-walled cube.  You actually may be spending more time with them than with your spouse!

As the CEO, your relationship with your employees will fall somewhere between these two extremes.  Even within the employee population your relationship may vary considerably.  Bi-directional misunderstandings are the norm.  The CBS Network show “Undercover Boss” graphically illustrates common misunderstandings in each episode.  Due to different responsibilities, tactical and strategic goals, and a variety of other factors, misunderstandings, to some degree or another, can occur.  There are, however, a few simple techniques that a CEO can embrace and use on a daily basis to help minimize misunderstandings throughout the organization.

  1. Think out loud. Share your thoughts and the logic behind your decisions with others.  Minimize the need for them to guess what you are thinking and why you reached the conclusions that you have reached.
  2. Think of meetings as gatherings that involve a certain, select group of individuals while, at the same time, excluding many others.  End every meeting with two questions: 1) Who was not here that should have been?  2) Who is going to tell them?
  3. Schedule non-scheduled time every day.  You know that unexpected issues will arise, plan on them, but be sure to separate “urgent” from “important” requests. When issues arise, ask yourself if the urgent request is really important to the business now and in the future?
  4. Lead by example.  Break out of the daily management habit of directing others to do tasks and do some yourself.  If the sink has dirty dishes in it, wash them.  Make your own photo copies.  Go to the breakroom and get your own coffee.  Show that you are human. Don’t be afraid to “waste” some time.  That “wasted time” will probably be the best time investment that you can make to your most important investor category: your employees.  Refer to Principle Three in Chapter Four of this collection that discusses the wants and needs of the four different groups of individuals that have invested in your company.
  5. Lead by running with the pack.  Make sales calls, stand in the booth at a trade show, listen in on customer service calls, visit shipping, receiving, and manufacturing personnel as they are performing their tasks.  Ask others why they do certain things the way they do and actually listen to their responses.  Notice that this activity involves running with, not leading, the pack.  Tag along and let others take the lead on these activities.  Let them show you what they do and how they do it.
  6. Wear a name tag.
  7. Randomly visit someone in their cube or other workspace.  Sit down and ask them how their weekend was or what they are doing?  Don’t be surprised if people freak out the first few times you do this.  Actually listen to what they say and show them that you did, in fact, listen.  Ask them questions about what they just said.
  8. Join a group for lunch or a coffee break.
  9. Truly have an open-door policy.  Do not have someone else filter or inquire what the reason for the meeting is going to be about.
  10. Smile and laugh a lot.  Be ready and able to say, “I was wrong and you were right.”

If, after reading this list, you say to yourself “No duh…of course all of this makes sense,” take a test.  Print out this article and put a check mark next to every one of the ten items you do the next week.  Then re-read the article.  How visible and approachable were you during the past week? I hope not, but I think the results may surprise you.


Article Number : 4.050207   

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