I have been called a lot of things in my life- some good, some not so pleasant and many that I can’t repeat here due to corporate filters. However, the grand consensus has always been that I more than likely deserved them all at the time, until one day several years ago.

I was working as a manager of a processing team for a national bank (figure out which on my LinkedIn profile). They had created an initiative, a beta test if you will, where they hired several new teams of processors that had zero industry experience. It was a novel idea at the time and ended up being a superb group of people. During their onboarding and initial live training period our team, as well as others, had one of the site’s most experienced processors working directly with them to teach the industry and bank ways.

Along the way though the trainer and I had various clashes. Most of these were around disagreements in training styles and specifics I had for my team. Looking back on it now, I admittedly might have been a little bit of a control freak. Eventually the trainer had a conversation with my manager about our disagreements and her perception of me.

Chris, my manager, called me in to discuss the conversation, and he dropped the bomb of all bombs on me. He said the trainer stated that I was “unapproachable”- unapproachable?

I looked at Chris and responded, “I am a lot of things, but I have never been called unapproachable. I am crazy outgoing, probably talk too much (not admitting it though) and have never met a stranger. I make ‘people’ people look like introverts.”

He chuckled, somewhat agreed, but asked that I think about why someone would think I wasn’t approachable, and oh, try to be a little more flexible. Great advice from a great person and leader. I couldn’t shake that title though- unapproachable. No way.

It wasn’t until roughly a year later during a conversation with several people that were part of the initial group where I finally found my answer.

We were reminiscing about old times, and I mentioned the ‘unapproachable’ accusation and how it still bothered me. The characteristic didn’t seem to surprise them. As a co-worker put it, “When we first started, you were crazy busy and even though you said to come to you with any questions or problems, most of us didn’t because you looked incredibly stressed and like you had enough on your plate. None of us wanted to bother you. Even though we now know you aren’t, you did come across as a little unapproachable before.”

It was one of the simplest and most impactful conversations of my career.

Sometimes our own perception isn’t what others see and as awesome as we believe we are, or as much as we feel we are letting others in, or have an “open door”- is that truly what everyone else is seeing? I found out much too late- people didn’t see me as approachable as I thought I was. Far too often we have the best of intentions inside, but a different appearance outside. Like company culture, branding, marketing, or even technology: Are people seeing and experiencing what we truly want them to? What are you projecting on the surface? It actually does matter, no matter how much we teach our kids it doesn’t, especially in leadership.

Our demeanor and emotions can contradict our intentions. How are other people seeing you, your company, your technology, your leadership style? Are you actually approachable? Until next time.