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How Approachable Is Your Boss?

By Ken and Lee Estridge

Perhaps the most important factor in employee engagement is the employee's relationship with their immediate boss. How and when a leader provides feedback has a large impact on how people think and feel about working for them. We have observed many leaders over the years. There are many ways to be an effective leader, however some leadership behaviors have a much more positive impact on employee engagement than others. One thing great leaders do differently is how and when they provide feedback. Here are some of the most important lessons we have learned. One of the hallmarks of exceptional leaders is that they are approachable and vulnerable and they make it safe for their employees to share difficult issues and to challenge their decisions. When leaders are vulnerable and approachable it creates more open and truthful communication with employees. It also promotes trust, which is the foundation for effective teamwork.

Here are a few questions that may help you think about your relationship with your boss and how that relationship colors your communication with him or her. If you are the leader of your company, you might ask your team to answer these questions to get some insight on how they experience working for you.

  1. Do you feel comfortable sharing your fears and doubts with your boss?
  2. Do you feel comfortable saying you don't know how to do something and asking for guidance or advice?
  3. Do you feel comfortable trying to do new things with uncertain outcomes?
  4. Do you feel comfortable admitting failure?
  5. Do you feel comfortable sharing bad news with your boss or do you hide bad news for fear of rejection or an angry reaction?
  6. Do you feel comfortable challenging your boss or disagreeing with your boss about their position on an issue?

In our coaching work with our clients in companies of all sizes we often find executives afraid to tell the truth to their boss or to reveal any sign of weakness. Here is a story you may be able to relate to.

Sally is a VP in a large high tech company who has worked hard for years to get to her current position. She works for a hard-driving, larger than life SVP, who pushes himself and his team very hard and wants no excuses for not performing. She often disagrees with the decisions made by her boss, but she is afraid to confront him. On the one or two occasions when she questioned him in a team meeting, he publicly put her down and humiliated her. He never wants anyone to challenge his decisions or opinions, especially in public. His energy is so big and his anger is so close to the surface that the whole team has a motto of "Don't provoke the lion!" because if you do he roars! Sally and the rest of the team have learned to silently go along even when they are walking down the wrong road rather than upset the lion.

We have seen variations on this theme played our over and over again. How does it make you feel when you can't share your concerns and offer your opinions? Does it make you feel valued and respected? How does this behavior block the flow of what could be useful and important communication? How does it impact your level of engagement with your company and your commitment to the goals of your company?

For those of you who have been reading our newsletters for the past few months, you may have observed a theme of the impact of leadership on employee engagement and retention. One of the most important factors in employee engagement is an employee's ability to have truthful and meaningful interactions with their boss. This is very difficult if the boss is not approachable!

If you resonate with this article and have experienced difficulty being open and honest with your boss, please share your stories with us.

Wishing you a wonderful spring.

Ken and Lee Estridge