Read Ralph's Book The Leadership Maker
Follow Us:
Phone: 207-653-2552


Measuring Success in Leadership (Part 8) Approachability and Humility

Home > Articles > Leadership

This is the final installment in Measuring Success in leadership. To catch any of the previous seven articles please go to: and as you scroll down you will see all the articles plus others from staff here at Priority Learning.

L and M Observation Process

This is the final installment in Measuring Success in leadership.  To catch any of the previous seven articles please go to: and as you scroll down you will see all the articles plus others from staff here at Priority Learning.

In previous articles we have talked about accountability, team work, setting priorities, communications and more. For this final installment we have saved the most important for last. The title of the category is Approachability and Humility. People have been talking and writing about this one for a long time and in almost any leadership book, article or if you listen to exerts you will inevitably hear the terms.  What it means and what you can do is the focus of this last section.

Defining Approachability and Humility

Approachability – As you have already determined, they are different words with different meanings.  So, let’s take them one at a time.  According to Lee Hopkins (one of Australia’s leading communications consultants @ ); “The word ‘approachability’ derives from the Latin verb apropiare, which means ‘to come nearer to.’ Therefore, approachability is a two way street. And the model represents both inbound and outbound channels. Outbound, or proactive approachability, is stepping onto someone else's front porch. It's about being bold. It's about breaking the silence. And it's about taking initiative. Inbound, or reactive approachability, is welcoming others onto your front porch. It's about openness. It's about availability. And it's about making yourself accessible to others.”

I like the definition and particularly like the inbound/outbound approach.

Humility – Humility on the other hand is a common and old word meaning; the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc.

When you put approachability and humility together they take on still another meaning in the world of leaders.  Any leader gives off a certain feeling toward others that makes them easy or hard to approach.  This requires leaders to be open, transparent and patient with others regardless of personality.  Wanting this open communications without agenda and the will to greet others on their terms brings humility into the equation.  This quality generally makes the difference between success and failure.

The reason I mentioned that we will leave the most important for last is because this is where we see the most success in leaders and the most failure.  We have all witnessed smart, driven, engaged and prepared leaders who curiously, cannot lead.  On the other hand we have seen people with serious holes in their abilities of average intellect gather and mobilize people in extraordinary ways.  Here is what we know to be true.  Demonstrate the behaviors of approachability and humility and people will naturally be drawn to you and want to follow.  Fail to demonstrate these two behaviors and you will one day look over your shoulder and no one will be there regardless of position or title. 

Skills and Behaviors Matrix for Approachability and Humility

Forced Rate



Forced Rate


Creating an atmosphere of approachability

Letting others know that you want to hear from them



Setting up physical space to encourage questions

Willing to share with others



Routinely updating others on important work

Demonstrating humility



Knowing the personalities of your workforce

Managing biases and favoritism



Over communicating

Is seen by others as easy to approach


Like we have done each of the previous sections we will take the various skills and behaviors in the chart above and break them down into the individual components and apply some detail for you to chew on.

Approachability and Humility – Skills

Creating an atmosphere of approachability – it is one thing to say “Approach me, approach me” it is another to create easy pathways to you so that the easiest thing to do is to approach. Let people know that you want their ideas, input and thoughts. When they give them to you, thank them and honor the risk they took. You don’t have to use their idea but they deserve to hear what you plan to do. If you take this simple follow-up routine on the ideas others provide, you will be rewarded with more ideas. Keep doors open as often as possible. If you want to see paranoia reign, then do all your work behind closed doors in hushed tones. Be available and on a schedule so people know when you will be present. And finally, let people know that there are no secrets.

Setting up physical space to encourage questions – This is about space and its restrictions. Your desk is a barrier if you sit behind it and the audience is kept on the other side. Your office can be seen as the place where people go to be sanctioned. I’m not saying to burn your office and eliminate your desk, but I might suggest that you set up a place to talk with people that give a better impression of equality like a work table or conference room. When someone shows up to talk, come away from the desk and find a way to level the playing field. In all situations, look for ways to allow people to converse without the agenda of title or position always front and center.

Routinely updating others on important work – You may think people know all that you know, but if you are attending meetings and hearing from sources and they don’t hear from you, you are mistaken. Let people know what is going on all the time. This is not only a good idea for your people. It is a good idea with other leaders. No secrets please. Talk about projects, good performance, success and hope and people will flock to you.Talk about what doesn’t work and bad performers and people will get tired and avoid you. It is your greatest opportunity to spread the word and you should not miss out on the opportunity.

Knowing the personalities of your workforce – By now, there is and abundant resource available to most leaders focused on personality. Instruments like DISC, Myers-Briggs and Predictive Index plus more are online and available to almost anyone who wants to learn. The good news is that much of this personality work is very accurate and will give you a reasonably good idea of people’s patterns of work, life, decision making and communications. The bad news is that many leaders either don’t take the time to learn or take the knowledge to places with people that it is not designed to do. I encourage you to get your people involved in personality work. They will learn about themselves, the diversity that others bring and this can eliminate fear and conflict when done properly. Share your personality profile with others. Learn about other personalities and ask lots of questions as your best approach. Caution – these tools are general tools of inclination or preference and are not the exact science. If you appear to know too much about other people’s personalities, it may scare them away. Let them tell you about their strengths as well as limitations.

Over communicating – It is not enough to simply explain the basics. You need to go deeper. Sometimes we make the conclusion that the audience already knows all the stuff we do so we don’t need to explain more. This may or may not be true. This is the art of over communicating. If you don’t communicate enough you will be seen as withholding or secretive and the danger of over communicating is you may get eye rolls from time to time. Hang in there and keep at it because if you practice communicating you will get the right level much of the time. The goal is complete disclosure and transparency and we added this category because it is a common stumbling point for leaders.

Approachability and Humility – Behaviors

Letting others know that you want to hear from them – As the boss you may think that others know you want to hear from them. Maybe or maybe not. This is something that needs to be said over and over and not just in words. SMILE when someone approaches. Sounds simple, huh? It is one of the easiest ways to get people to approach you... smile. Thank people who come and talk with you, share an idea and follow up with them later to let them know how important it is. Talk to others and use examples of people who have shared ideas and input as champions. Try that, smile, thank them and make them champions. You will have all the input you need and then some.

Willing to share with others – Leaders share knowledge, resources, people, and learning. This is an easy concept to understand but much harder for many leaders to adopt. We live in a time where we hear the echo of “knowledge is power” and it is an attractive mirage. People who start out as consultants in the work of training, leadership, or organizational development rush to patent their work and copy-write their words only to find out that someone already had the idea and it is free on the internet. Not to say that there isn’t something to protecting your work but more truthfully, power belongs to those who earn the credibility to lead and share all they know. With all the technology available today knowledge has become something you can look up and find if you want. If you know something that others need, share. You will find that you build cultures around you of interest and learning that are contagious places to work.

Demonstrating humility We have a truth here at Priority Learning. If you want to be a great leader it is simple; take all the blame when something goes wrong, give away all the credit when things go right and everyday all day own everything that goes on around you.  By virtue of your role as a leader you cannot do things by yourself so when it goes right you have no right to take the credit (it does not matter that you may have been instrumental in the success).  Conversely by virtue of your leadership role you are the “buck stops here” person so when it goes bad you need to stand tall and take the blow for the team (it does not matter that you may have had nothing to do with the failure). Leaders look forward and learn and help the other learn with them.  Do this religiously for a while as see what happens to your approachability and humility.

Managing biases and favoritism – This is a hot topic for me. As a young supervisor I was accused of having favorites to which I responded “I do not.” After hearing honest sincere feedback from employees and looking hard in the mirror... I had favorites. Didn’t like it but there it was. We all have favorites, biases and others see them long before we do. Want to do something about it? Here is a good formula, get good feedback from peers, superiors and subordinates. Believe it! Study and understand your biases for people who share common interests, the opposite sex, age, nationalities and preferences. Work like the dickens to minimize the impacts of those biases.

Biases and favoritism is not an easy topic but we all have some. If you minimized the impact, you will be seen as “fair”. Not a bad word in the minds of most leaders. If you don’t minimize the impact it will haunt you and encroach on your credibility in decision making and negatively impact the people you favor. Finally, avoid other’s biases expressed to you and be very careful of your opinions of other expressed to others. I would be a rich man if I collected a nickel for every time a campaign of negative information about an individual resulted in their neglect, leaving an organization when they should have stayed or got ignored or passed over when they were the “right” person for the job. We have all seen it. Remember, you may be wrong and your biases can really hurt others. Your influence is a gift, please use it wisely.

Is seen by others as easy to approach – By now you are seeing the patterns of approachability and humility and I will wrap this final category up with a bunch of dos and one don’t.

  1. Do wander around and be relaxed.  Smile and say good morning. 
  2. Do stay positive and talk about the possibilities instead of the limitations. Find something right instead of finding things wrong all the time.
  3. Do support your team, your boss and your organization.
  4. Do tell people what you want and expect from them and yourself.
  5. Always take the blame.  Give away the credit and own everything from the parking lot to the delivery of services.
  6. Do listen and be interested (not simply look interested).  This one is easy if you simply remove the clutter from you brain and concentrate on one person at a time.
  7. Do be grateful to those who preceded you, believe in you today and who give you the opportunity to lead.  Leading is a gift and not everyone gets the gift.
  8. Do remember that you work for “them.”
  9. Don’t be the person whose schedule is so full they are never around. 

As always, thanks for reading and following along through the journey.  I have enjoyed taking the time to write out what I have learned from all of you and sharing.  Next month I will be back with something new so please visit on Facebook and your feedback is welcome.  Have a great Fourth of July.  Happy Birthday America!!

Best to all,

0 (0)


Ralph Twombly
Priority Learning

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.



Submit A Comment:



Preparation for Building a Culture

Every Year Tells a Story

The Pillars of Organizational Culture

Magic - What is in this book?

Dunning Kruger Effect

The language of leading through caring (part II)

Why does a flourishing organization matter?

Peer Communication and Care

Communications That Can Enhance your Relationships

Persistence: A Vital Leadership Quality

Increasing Meeting Participation


Time for a Paradigm Shift