Sunday, April 25, 2010

How to be a More Approachable, Sociable Leader

What!!?? How to be a more approachable, social leader? Who cares? What the hell does being warm and fuzzy have to be with being a great leader? And another thing… if it wasn’t for all these damn people we have to work with, we might actually get some work done.

Well, as it turns out, it does matter. While not a show stopper, or a derailer, if completely ignored, there could have negative consequences that impact your effectiveness as a leader.

I know this from personal experience. Yes, I have a confession to make. I’m a flaming introvert. I’m that guy at the social function counting down the minutes, looking for a side door to quietly slip out un-noticed. I’m naturally reserved, don’t show a lot of emotion, think before I speak, and hate making small talk with people I don’t know very well.

I’m only coming out of the closet like this as an example of someone that’s learned to adapt their behavior to meet the needs of my career, family, and to be a better leader and person. It's a development need for me, and something I'm working on to improve.

It’s also hard for an extrovert to give advice to an introvert on how to be more approachable and sociable. It’s such a natural thing, and what works for them doesn’t always work for someone that’s the complete opposite.

In this case, I’m extremely qualified to give advice on something I suck at.

So what are the potential behavioral, or leadership implications for someone who’s a natural introvert, and/or somewhat reserved? If you’re not careful, you could:

- Be seen as someone who doesn’t listen to other’s concerns
- Have trouble working as a part of a team
- Not develop the social networks needed to be manage your career
- Be seen as aloof, or even arrogant
- Be seen as unenthusiastic about people or projects
- Have trouble in front of groups, making presentations
- Be seen as hard to read, and hard to trust

Yikes, would would have known?

In order to avoid these potential problems, here are 7 tips for all of you engineers, scientists, accountants, programmers, and managers that want to up your sociability game:

1. Smile.
For me, this was a learned behavior. I didn’t realize the negative effect I was have having on people until someone pointed it out. Once I started doing it (and it hurt), it had amazing results. No, you don’t have to have to be wearing a dumb grin all the time – just do it when you greet someone or pass them in the hallway.
Interesting cultural note: In Rome, Italians do not smile at strangers. It took me a couple days to catch on to this, they must have thought I was some nut-case.

2. Personal disclosure.
Share more about yourself. I’m not talking about sharing your thoughts around your latest theory on leadership – I mean personal information. Doing so helps build trust and relationships – it’s a bonding ritual. Caution – don’t overdo it initially – you’ll freak people out. Start with sharing some vacation pictures, or a story about your kids, or your dog, etc… Work your way up to it, and people will then start sharing information in return.

3. Increase your daily, weekly, and monthly interactions.
Make sure you’re talking (not emailing) to at least 3 people each day, and 15 per week. The next time you’re tempted to send that email to the person who works around the corner from you, get up and go talk to them. Or, pick up the phone and call. Keep your door open.
Have coffee or lunch with at least one person a month just to network, inside or outside of work. Remember to smile at least once. (-: ouch.

4. Have regular one-on-ones and team meetings.
In your one on ones, build in a little time up front for casual conversation. It helps to break the ice and build rapport. In addition to these regular, planned interactions, schedule informal lunch hours and an occasional off-site meeting. If you can, host a meeting at your home.

5. Improve your presentation skills.
Presentation skills are a learned skill – we can all get better with instruction and hard work. I’ve written about this before – presentation skills are a MUST for any leader.

6. Improve your listening skills.
Reserved leaders may come across as uninterested, or not listening, because they don’t show a lot of emotion or provide many visual cues. Practice nodding your head, making eye contact, sit up straight, ask questions, and check for understanding. Checking for understanding is especially important for someone who doesn’t always “read between the lines” very well, or pick up on emotions or feelings. After a meeting, check with others to see if they had the same understanding that you did.

7. Read a book on improving your workplace social skills.
Improving your approachability and sociability is going to take time. This blog post is just meant to get someone started. There’s plenty of comprehensive help out there, written by experts who have more experience and wisdom than I do. Examples include:
- Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
- How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships
- Executive Charisma: Six Steps to Mastering the Art of Leadership

When it comes to personalities, we all have our natural preferences. There’s no cookie-cutter mold that we need to turn into to become effective leaders. “Strong, silent type” leaders can be just as effective as charismatic leaders.

However, it’s important not to use “that’s just the way I am” as an excuse for not addressing behaviors that are limiting your leadership potential.


Mary Jo Asmus said...

Hi Dan,

I loved this post, because as an extravert, I have worked with a lot of introverted leaders over the years; and with some real successes using many of the items you've listed.

The only thing that I would add is that a preference for introversion, if taken to the extreme by a manager or leader in certain situations or cultures, can be a potential derailer. I can think of at least one introverted leader who saved his job by using some of the things you've listed.

In some ways, I find it sad that our (U.S.) culture is extraverted (for introverts), but learning these skills yet making sure that they balance them with the time they need to be alone and recharge can make it work.

Nancy Hess said...

Hi Dan, Hi Mary Jo (thanks for leading me to this post),

As an introvert, I relate to the struggle to share personal information. Perhaps this is why I am so strong in the area of listening and asking questions. But conferences are a real challenge. I have to be laser focused to conserve enough energy to make it through.

I think a lot more could be said about being introvert in an extrovert world. I appreciate the thought provoking post.

Nancy Hess

Utpal Vaishnav said...

Resourceful post, Dan.

Cannot agree more with #6. For being approachable, you have to have strong listening skills.

I am also in the agreement of 'checking' the understanding. Acknowledging what you have listened to will add necessary spices in leader being more approachable.


James Castellano said...

I am living proof that reading books and learning how to break out form the introvert shell is possible. It can be done. Great post!

Unknown said...

Hi Dan,

I think listening is a truly important and powerful skill to have whether introverted or extroverted. Sending non verbal cues as you mentioned is great advice because it let's the individual know that you are engaged. I believe people want to be heard and they really appreciate it when you are listening to them. Also, the understanding check is very important. Often times at work; it seems we as managers are listening to problems. Because emotions are involved, people often provide a rambling problem explanation. Understanding / clarification checks help the sender and receiver to better analyze the information being transmitted.


joe b said...


You couldn't be more on point with introvert leaders here. I have seen first hand the effectiveness of just getting around and interacting with the staff can do for a boss/employee relationship. Work can be very stressful and it has to be seen as working toward common goals if you want the most out of your employees. The other key as you pointed out is as an introvert boss actually listening to the people you work with; two people just talking at eachother won't get to the point and when dealing with an introvert boss the shorter lengths of communication with them make a situation where if they dont listen to you you may not get a chance to clarify and solve the issues at hand.

Brandon Jones said...

I really like the list that you created. Each of the points that you mentioned really help to develop a relationship of trust with others. Once the trust has been created it is much easier to have a successful working relationship. Thanks for another great post!

Anonymous said...


Interesting post. I find it interesting that your tips start with a list of professionals who will benefit from the tips and engineer is listed first. I find it stereotypical nowadays that engineers are targeted as introverts. Some maybe, but personally I think most engineers nowadays are extroverts. Maybe I am bias since I am an engineer. Nonetheless, your tips are very helpful and indeed useful. I cannot agree more to your point on improve your presentation and listening skills. We must know how to present and listen in order to be effective. In regard to the listening, we should listen with the intent to understand, not listen with the intent to be understood. Thanks for another great post.

Very Best Regards,

Dan McCarthy said...

Mary Jo –
Thanks. I hope people understand that the purpose of my post was not to “fix” introverts and try to get them to be extroverts. It was as you said, to be aware of some of the potential consequences of your natural preferences and understand how to be more sociable and approachable.

Welcome! I know what you mean about conferences, especially the social and networking functions.

Utpal –
Thanks! People that are more naturally reserved tend to be more inwardly focused, so we have to work harder at our listening skills.

James –
Thanks! Me too.

James –

Joseph –

Brandon –
Right, it all starts with building trust.

Jason –
I actually looked up the professions on an MBTI website, and they were listed as common for introverts. I was also teasing a bit, there was no disrespect intended. I love engineers! My daughter is going to school for chemical.

Unknown said...

Very good points. I definitely see myself as more of an introvert. Having a list of ideas like this is great, because it allows you to back check what you're doing instead of just assuming you're being sociable enough. I look forward to incorporating ideas from it into my daily routine.

Wade Anderson said...


This is a great post. As an introvert who has suffered in the workplace from this in the past. I think the point concerning sharing a little about yourself is important. I found at one position that my lack of giving alot of detail about myself out of work hurt me at a place where the culture was the extreme opposite with everyone knowing everything about everyone. It made me the outsider that much more.

Unknown said...

Dan, I am an extrovert and found your comments helpful to me in understanding of how I should adjust my beahvior to better deal with introverts. Step 6 that discusses listening skills works for both introverts and extroverts. I often am the first to speak up in a group setting and do not take the time to allow others to speak up. In such situations, introverts will be less likely to speak up. Holding back and giving others the chance to contribute will help both introverts and extroverts communicate more effectively.

Unknown said...

Dan, I am an extrovert and reading your post is helpful to me in understanding how my behavior impacts that of someone who is introverted. I think your comments on listening works for both introverts and extroverts. I am often the first to speak up in a group setting which may cause an introvert not to speak up. I need to pause and give others less extroverted the opportunity to contribute and take the time to listen carefully and check for understanding before responding verbally.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the reply. No disrespect taken, I was just curious as always. Good luck to your daughter. It's going to be a tough ride =)

Very Best Regards,

Anonymous said...

Great post, Dan. If you are into Social Intelligence, definitely check out Dr. Karl Albrecht and his book, "Social Intelligence: the New Science of Success."

Miki Saxon said...

Great post, Dan, and it's also a great example of why I get so frustrated over the whole "leadership thing."

There is not one person, intorvert or extrovert, leader or follower, in any profession, at any point in their carreer/life, personally or professionally, who could not benefit from some/all of your seven points!

Dan McCarthy said...

Carl –
Thanks, and good luck with it!

Wade –
I completely understand. It’s about adapting to the culture in order to be a more effective leader.

Liza –
Glad I could help. Thanks.

Jason –
Got it. And thanks, she’ll need it!

Anon –
Thanks for the tip!

Miki –
Thanks. True, but if I didn’t write about leadership, I’d have to change my blog name. (-:

Expert Program Management said...

Fantastic post! You just about summed me up. I'm on day two of trying to smile (I can confirm it does hurt) but it seems to be working.


davidburkus said...

I'd add one thing to this list (and you're doing it in droves):

Say Thanks.

Early. Often. Always.

Dan McCarthy said...

DJ -
Hang in there, you can do it!

David -
Good add! and thanks. (-:

Geekcoach said...

Hi Dan -

I enjoyed the post. You provided some simple, effective and easy-to-implement techniques that can make introverted leaders more effective.

Over at, I blog about helping people with deep technical expertise (geeks) become more effective leaders. A big part of that involves overcoming introversion and embracing a broader leadership role. I describe the Geek 5 risks that face many technical folks: resistance to a broader role, poor organizational savvy, poor leadership skills, poor management skills and weak business/ financial acumen.

Regards, Geekcoach

oscar marroquin said...

great post. I agree with your observations. My only hesitation is including the presentation skills here. I suppose in general this may apply. I have seen great presenters who are poor relators.. and great relators be poor presenters. I'm not convinced that a person's presentation skills are a good indicator of their social leadership skills. One other important factor is for the leader to be sincere.

Heath Davis Havlick said...

I was born fearful of people and felt socially retarded until I hit 9th grade, when I made a conscious decision to interact more with other human beings. It was hard but, as you said, the behavior can be learned. Nowadays, people are shocked to learn that I am a natural introvert. Life and work are MUCH better when you make the effort (however initially painful) to include and be aware of others.

Dan McCarthy said...

Geekcoach -
Thanks! I'll take a look at your blog.

Oscar -
Thanks. You're right, presentation skills are not an indication of being a great relator. However, in general, people who are less socially adept tend to struggle with speaking in front of groups.

Heath Davis -
Thanks for sharing that nice testamonial.

Lisa Fields said...

As a trainer/consultant who uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a standard foundation for my work I appreciate the transparency you have given us.
Introversion is a preference that is determined when we are born. To be remarkable leaders we must be aware and use our non-preference to build professional relationships.

One of my favorite statements:
Extraverts many times regret what they say.
Introverts many times regret what they don't say.

Another important point is if you are not communicating on a regular base with those you lead they many times will make up stories if they are not given information. People are just human and this is a common behavior. In these challenging economic times lack of information may lead to incorrect assumptions about the healthy of an organization.

Thank you for such a wonderful post.



Hi Dan..

I loved the post and will start implementing some these ideas. Please write more in this area but this time for ambivert people (those are momentarily introvert and extrovert)..


Francie Dalton said...

Hi Dan,
Love these 7 tips!
Permit me to add one more that is crucial to becoming an approachable leader:
An openess to scrutiny, better yet, a welcoming of it, along with a willingness to change, despite the attendant discomforts, affords a state of being that few organizations and even fewer individuals enjoy: the state of alignment.
- Francie

Matt Maresca said...

#1 is huge. I'm also an introvert. For years, I got comments almost daily of people telling me to smile or asking why I never smile. It drove me crazy because I felt like I smiled a normal amount. In reality, I simply felt I needed a reason to smile. In actuality, life is reason enough to smile. Being around people is a reason to smile. Making other people comfortable and happy is a reason to smile. I'm still working on this but people have already taken notice. Apparently, I'm a much more likable person now. That's pretty freakin' awesome!

Dan McCarthy said...

Lisa -
I'm glad to hear I didn't write anything that an MBTI expert would find inappropriate. Thanks for the additional information, and I love the quote!

Anshul -
"ambivert people"? I've not heard of that.

Francie -

Matt -
Thanks, glad it hit the mark for you. Again, I'm amazed with how much this post resonated with people.