Simple Gestures, Critical Impact

On his first day, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introduced himself to his new colleagues with a simple, but immensely powerful PowerPoint slide containing only five words: You can call me Arne.

Approachability. It is perhaps one of the most underrated assets of effective leaders.

Approachable individuals (whether we genuinely like them or not) are more likely to be included in informal conversations, offered constructive feedback, be alerted to blind spots in their tactics, told unwelcome "truths" needed to make better decisions, pitched ideas that go against the norm, and much more. Seen as not approachable and your colleagues detour around you whenever possible, dramatically reducing your scope of influence and the quality and quantity of insight and advice you receive.

Our words and deeds quickly communicate our approachability. Active and empathic listening without interruption. Holding meetings in others' offices. Remembering important personal facts about coworkers. Sitting side-by-side instead of divided by the executive desk. Allowing a bit of informality where rigidity once ruled. Acknowledging a job well done with more than perfunctory rah-rah talk. Picking up the phone when an email would do. And the classic MBWA strategy, Management By Walking Around.

"Of or characteristic of people's better qualities, such as kindness or sensitivity" is how the dictionary defines human, something we need all our leaders to be.