How Approachable Are You as a Boss

Perhaps the most important factor in employee engagement is the employee's relationship with their immediate boss. I 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 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 employees and how that relationship colors their communication with you. 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. If they are afraid to answer these questions, then you know the answer!

  1. Do you feel comfortable sharing your fears and doubts with me?

  2. Do you feel comfortable saying you don't know how to do something and asking me for guidance or advice?

  3. Do you feel comfortable trying to do new things with uncertain outcomes?

  4. Do you feel comfortable admitting failure to me?

  5. Do you feel comfortable sharing bad news with me or do you hide bad news for fear of rejection or an angry reaction?

  6. Do you feel comfortable challenging me or disagreeing with me about my position on an issue?


In my coaching work with clients in companies of all sizes, I 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.

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

For those of you who have been reading my newsletters for the past few months, you may have observed a theme of the impact of leadership on employee engagement,  retention and accountability. In fact, one of the Seven C’s of my soon to be published book, Inspire Accountability, deals with Commitment & Caring which is highly correlated with employee engagement, and another C deals with creating a Culture that makes it safe for people to say what they think even if it means challenging authority. 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 you are not approachable!

If you resonate with this article, please share your stories with me.

Ken Estridge