What It Means To Be An Approachable Leader

Are you an approachable leader? We talked to Hari Murali, the head of marketing for Zoho One, about approachable leadership and a unique concept: transnational localism. Zoho fosters a culture where its employees thrive and become advocates for the company in their local communities, while also staying true to the company’s cultural identity. 

Zoho’s CEO is pushing for something called “transnational localism” within Zoho. This means that no matter where you are in the world, Zoho should feel like a company native to that country. When employees interact with people there, whether in person or over the phone, they should speak the local language and embody the spirit of that country. While maintaining elements of the Indian heritage, Zoho is also eager to embrace the diversity of cultures worldwide. 


Two happy businesswomen sitting and talking - approachable leader


What does it mean to be approachable?

Being approachable isn’t just about waiting for others to come to you; it’s about actively engaging with people and showing genuine interest in their lives. If you notice that no one is approaching you, it’s time to take the initiative and start conversations. Ask about their well-being, how their family is doing, or what they’ve been up to lately. Putting people first means prioritizing their personal lives before diving into work-related discussions.

Hari believes that being approachable means maintaining a trusting environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their challenges. Instead of criticizing, he emphasizes supporting and encouraging his team, valuing their failures as much as their successes. Hari understands that failure is often a stepping stone to success and encourages open discussions about it.

On the other hand, an unapproachable leader creates an environment where team members feel fearful about expressing themselves or sharing their ideas. This fear of failure can be detrimental because it prevents individuals from taking risks and learning from mistakes. 


If a leader is saying “I am approachable” and nobody is coming to them, it’s time for that leader to go on his own walks and ask people, pick up small conversations. I would start with family conversations or friendly conversations first and then just make that transition to “What shall we do about this task?”

– Hari Murali


Consistency and Vulnerability

Consistency is crucial to Hari’s leadership style. He ensures that his interactions with his team remain consistent regardless of his mood or external factors. Hari also values vulnerability in leadership. By sharing his own experiences and mistakes, he humanizes himself and becomes more relatable to his team members. 

Hari actively breaks down barriers, such as initial perceptions based on appearance, to create a more inclusive and approachable atmosphere. To facilitate bonding with new team members, he implements simple yet impactful strategies, such as rearranging seating arrangements to sit beside them initially. By engaging in casual conversations and showing genuine interest in their lives, he quickly builds rapport and gains insights into their personalities and strengths.


Does being an approachable leader work for both small and large organizations?

As the team expands and collaboration extends across different departments, effective communication becomes a priority. As a leader, the challenge here is your ability to listen to various sides. Hari suggests consolidating discussions into manageable groups to prevent overwhelming dynamics, especially in teams that are made up of members with different levels of seniority. Ideally, this involves face-to-face discussions with the involved parties to resolve issues in person. It is important to maintain a calm and collaborative atmosphere, establish structured communication channels, and address conflicts promptly and proactively.


Tip to Improve Your Listening Skills

Active listening means really grasping what others are saying and then using that information to communicate effectively with your team. One tip Hari shares is to listen to podcasts regularly. Whether he’s driving, getting ready for bed, or waiting around, he takes advantage of any free time to tune in. He suggests approaching podcast listening as if you’re observing a conversation between two people, rather than actively participating. This perspective shift can help you focus on absorbing information and improving your listening skills effectively.


How do you recover from a lapse in consistency?

The journey of self-discovery and personal growth is continuous for everyone. However, external feedback also plays a crucial role in understanding our progress as individuals. When feeling inconsistent or off-course, seeking feedback from trusted sources, whether within our professional circles or among friends, can help you understand yourself better. Often, those closest to us can recognize shifts in our behavior or mindset before we do. Through those important conversations, we learn where to make improvements. In such an atmosphere, individuals are more likely to share ideas, voice concerns, and provide feedback, contributing to collective growth and problem-solving. This collaborative approach allows for course corrections and helps uncover blind spots, ultimately leading to personal and professional development.

Hari mentions there should still be a balance between approachability and maintaining productivity within the team. He believes that being approachable doesn’t equate to being lenient when it comes to meeting deadlines. There comes a point when leaders should step in and address issues directly. When team members consistently underperform despite initial feedback, leaders also shouldn’t hesitate to have candid but professional conversations with them. 


Approachable leadership promotes openness.

Despite his high profile and popularity, the CEO of Zoho still makes time for Friday town hall meetings where employees can ask questions anonymously. He dedicates one to two hours every week to personally address these questions, even if they seem trivial. This level of openness and accessibility sets a standard for the organization, demonstrating a commitment to transparency and accountability. 

To wrap it all up, a confident leader puts people first and prioritizes building connections by understanding individuals’ backgrounds, skills, and stories. They openly share their failures, demonstrating a willingness to learn and improve. And they are consistent with their efforts every day to improve their approachability.

What are your takeaways from this blog? Let us know in the comments. 

For a deeper dive into this topic, you can also listen to the full The Impact of Being An Approachable Leader podcast episode or watch it on YouTube.

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