Approachability as a Leader
Written by Wally Adamchik
January 16, 2022
When most people think about approachability, they’re talking about inbound approachability. Using a homeowner analogy, this means, is your lawn well-kept and your front porch clean? Do you appear welcoming?
But there are two sides to approachability, and people often forget the other side: outbound approachability. Outbound approachability asks, are you stepping onto others’ front porches? When someone opens their home to you, do you come in?
In this talk, Adamchik and Blount discussed the two sides of approachability, the FIRO circle concept of inclusion, approachability’s ROI, and how to be more approachable as a leader.
It’s an “and” statement.
You may think you’re pretty approachable already. After all, you make yourself available, and your people have no worries about coming to you when they need to.
But what about the flip side of approachability? How well do you do when other people extend hospitality your way?
For leaders, it can be tough. You want to have a good relationship with your people, but you don’t necessarily want to be drinking buddies with them. Using an extreme example, what if you have a policy of not socializing with your team, and a crew member sends you a birthday party invite?
“As soon as you set up an either/or — for example, it’s either my family or my work — you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Adamchik said. “Instead, use an “and” statement. Is there a way I can do both family and work? And the answer is, you can take the long view. So if you don’t normally accept these invites, but the guy having the birthday is a 10-year employee, you can say, yeah, I’m going to go this time. Generally, that’s how we get that balance in there.”
How big is your circle?
It turns out you can actually measure your approachability with an assessment called FIRO (Fundamental Interpersonal Relationship Orientation). One of the things FIRO measures is inclusion: wanted inclusion and expressed inclusion. Wanted inclusion is how much you want to be included, while expressed inclusion is how much you initiate inclusion.
When it comes to inclusion scores, a zero is, if I’m the only person on Earth, I’ll be okay, while a nine is, you put me in a room by myself, and I’ll find someone to talk to. And in the construction world, not surprisingly, inclusion scores tend to be low.
Think of your inclusion scores as a circle. How big is your circle? Zero, and your circle is very small. Nine, and it’s the size of the universe. “I’m a one and a one on both inclusion scales,” Adamchik said. “My circle is really small. So the question is, how do you get in my circle? And how do I let you in my circle? So I have to recognize my tendencies. For me, it’s that I’m fine playing golf by myself.”
How to build your circle.
Find points of commonality.
So what do you do if your circle is small, but you get put into a role where you need to have more people in your circle? “You lubricate that relationship,” Adamchik said. “Find the points of commonality. It doesn’t matter what it is, just go find that commonality. So if you play golf and they play golf, go play golf together, and build that relationship.”
Do the Four Hs. Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski used the Four H’s exercise — History, Heroes, Heartbreaks, and Hopes — to help build the team he needed to lead the Browns to a winning season back in 2020. The exercise goes deeper than standard team-building exercises, because it asks people to be more vulnerable. According to Adamchik, it works because everyone has to take off a bit of their armor in a very intentional way.
Understand the limits of technology. Technology’s great, but it has its drawbacks too. “Research tells us 93% of communication is nonverbal,” Adamchik pointed out. “And when we’re doing things at our keyboard, we lose the nonverbal components: the body language, pace, tone, inflection. So you have to remember the intimacy of physical approachability, and how that gets lost when you’re, say, writing an email.”
Remember the builder’s DNA. In construction, most of us have what Adamchik called “builder’s DNA.” “We tend to be task-oriented and individualistic, with lower emotional intelligence scores and lower FIRO inclusion scores,” he said. “And this means we often make relationships secondary to the task. So when it comes to being more approachable, this is something we need to deal with, both in ourselves, and the people we work with.”
Working in a diverse society. As a leader, you need to recognize that successful recruiting will likely include people who don’t fit into the traditional mode. “What we needed 20 years ago is not what we need today,” Adamchik said. “It’s a different environment, with different people who have different requirements. Sure, diversity can be scary, but that’s mostly because it’s different. It’s not what you’re used to. But the demographics aren’t going to change. So if you want your business to be successful, you damn well better figure out how to get used to it.”
The ROI of approachability.
In the Dirt World, we hear a lot about machine costs. When you buy a machine, you run an ROI calculation. You know your capitalization, depreciation, and the breakeven. All that math gets done, so you know exactly what that machine will cost you.
You need to do the same when it comes to turnover. Successful companies know their turnover rate, and how this rate affects their costs.
At the frontline level, turnover costs are probably two times salary cost. This means an operator who’s making $80,000 will cost you $160,000 if they walk off the job. Where’s that $160,000 coming from? Lost productivity, from things like having a less experienced person working the machine and the HR overhead of finding a new operator.
Even if you say your turnover is one-half salary cost, it adds up. If you’re paying a laborer $40,000, and they walk off, that’s $20,000. This means if you have twenty people on your team, and your turnover rate is 20%, your turnover costs are 20 X $20,000, or $400,000. “Your turnover’s costing you nearly half a million,” Adamchik pointed out.
How to be approachable as a leader.
Approachability has a significant impact on your ability to lead effectively. Here are some tips to help you move that needle towards being more approachable.
Schedule it. Once you’ve gotten intentional about developing your approachability, you need to get it on your calendar. “Schedule time for it,” Adamchik advised. “It’s just like getting into shape. You schedule time to go to the gym. So let’s say you have five VPs. Meet one of them for lunch every Monday, so they’re all getting that time with you every fifth Monday.”
Mentor the ones not likely to stick around. Who’s the most at risk on your team from a turnover perspective? In the Dirt World, it’s usually the person who’s brand new. So we have to turn that around. “How about if we figured out a way to mentor that person, make them feel welcome?” Adamchik said. “Pick someone, and over the next 60 days, coach them, engage them, and get to know them.”
Sharpen your communication skills. Communication is everything when it comes to approachability. “I rarely speak in absolutes,” Blount said. “Because when you say, hey, what you did was wrong, their defenses come up instantly. So instead, I say, hey, I want you to know, this is how I feel.”
You also want to listen, and then restate or paraphrase what people are saying to you. “This shows people that you’re truly trying to hear them,” Adamchik said. Your delivery matters, too. “You say, I know I can be a better listener, so I’m going to repeat back to you what I heard so you can fill in any gaps,” he added.
Be creative about making the time. It can get difficult to make the time to be approachable. “You do need to schedule time with your direct reports,” Blount noted. “But what about your frontline workers? You need to find creative ways to demonstrate that you have time for them, too. They’re living the battle every day, and what we do doesn’t happen without them.” Whether it’s a podcast, a company barbecue, or knowing everyone’s names, come up with ways that say you’re there for them.
Approachability is a two-way street, and in the Dirt World especially, many of us aren’t geared to have big circles of inclusion. It can be hard for us to be more open, because we tend to be individualistic and task-oriented.
But with its high ROI, approachability plays an important role in every effective leader’s toolkit. The good news is, it can be improved. So work on building your circle, and put approachability into practice. As Adamchik put it, ask yourself, how am I going to be more approachable? And then go do it.
Written by Wally Adamchik
January 16, 2022