Approachability Matters

For many years, I’ve been confident in what I feel is the single greatest leadership skill. Without it, I tell students and adults alike, no leader can succeed. That skill is listening. 

Now, after much thought, I think I’ve decided upon an equivalent, if not greater, leadership skill: approachability.   

If someone isn’t approachable, the skill of listening can’t be used and thus doesn’t really matter. Those you lead, or want to serve, need to recognize you as someone they trust enough to visit and talk with. To them, you must be seen as a room that is inviting to walk into. 

Have you ever had a boss or a leader who made you more nervous than comfortable? I’m sure the old-school types will say that intimidation isn’t a bad thing, and maybe that works for some. But I don’t think it works for most. It never worked for me. If the essence of leadership is relationships, then approachability has to matter. Without it, leaders become isolated. Their influence withers. 

If you want to improve your approachability, start with your communication skills (back to listening) and your emotional intelligence. For example, take this next week and practice hard at being completely devoted to every conversation in which you find yourself. Keep the cell phone put away, and pay attention like you never have before. You may find something unusual happens - people can't wait to talk with you!

Approachability is clearly an essential quality for organizational advisors who work with young people. An advisor cannot do their job if the students he advises chooses not to interact with him. And the best advisors try to be approachable to every student, no matter their background or beliefs. 

For students, you have a Greek advisor on campus, and they are there to support you and help you grow. In order to do that, they need to be in a position to coach you, mentor you, and simply talk with you. So, how approachable is your Greek advisor? Do you walk towards him or her eagerly, or gingerly?  We could ask this about your chapter/alumni advisor as well.

For advisors, we should routinely take some time to investigate our approachability. It starts with observing what is happening around us. Approachable leaders will have a lot of drop-in traffic. They will also find themselves in many conversations that they do not initiate. Students will be genuinely excited to spend time with an approachable advisor. Also, if we are approachable, we may find that people want to discuss big things with us. We will often hear “hey, can I run an idea past you?” That’s the fun stuff. 

When I worked as a campus professional/advisor, there was no quality I held more sacred than approachability. I worried about it almost every day, and did anything I could to avoid losing even an ounce of it. This probably made me an overly careful person who worried too much about how others regarded me. But, given that I chose a profession that was all about relationships, I can still justify that degree of cautiousness. 

It all boils down to this for me - if you sign up to work with young people, from Kindergartners to college students, you have the responsibility to be approachable. Otherwise, you can’t do your job. 

Politics and Approachability
I’ve had something weighing on my mind. We just went through a contentious election and over a year’s worth of political battles. And, I’m sure you would agree, civility was in short supply. I was quite amazed at how many youth development professionals - including fraternity and sorority advisors - were wide open about their politics on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. And it wasn’t just “I think Romney is the right guy,” or “I’m glad Obama won.” It was quite intense at times. 

Saw this posted many times. Usually followed by a political post.
There shouldn’t be anything wrong with this, right? The students who follow us on these sites shouldn’t expect us to filter our beliefs and passions, right? Free speech is still one of the bedrocks of our nation. So is our ability to make choices and live with the consequences. 

Our choices influence our approachability. Politics is a hot-button issue that often causes emotions to triumph over rationality. Should a student, who is still trying to figure out their beliefs, be able to see a tweet from their advisor that enthusiastically puts her political stripes on full display and be able to compartmentalize it? Sure.  In this day and age, will they?  I’m not so sure.  It’s probably why I’m a chicken about sharing those kinds of beliefs in public. 

Some may wonder if my reticence to share politics out loud like that means I’m not as confident in my beliefs. My reticence is simply practical. I want the conservative Christian pro-life Republican and the liberal environmentalist pro-choice Democrat to feel equally excited to walk through my office door and share their dreams with me. 

I'm not trying to tell any advisor what to do. My choice to not broadcast most of my personal beliefs about politics, religion, etc. has worked for me - and it is my choice. There have been many times I’ve wanted to post something on my Facebook page about sensitive topics, but I’ve held back. I share those thoughts with my friends and family instead. 

The point is, approachability matters. And it’s not something that emerges without attention and thought. Those of us in positions of leadership and influence should be driven by the answer to fundamental questions: if I open the door, who is excited to come in and see me?  And who isn't? 

The Things I Learned From Joining a Sorority

By Jen Glantz

Most of the decisions we make when we are 18, fall apart. When I was 18, the Registrars office at my University knew me by first name since I filed a “change of major” form once a week. And the day I decided to go get an ink stain on my wrist and piercing through my lip, I walked out of the tattoo parlor with nothing more than a temporary tattoo on my elbow.

6 years later, the only decision I made back then that has not fallen apart was when I decided to join a sorority.

Just the other day, I was in the middle of a conversation with a man who was not from this country when he shot me a look into my tea cup eyes and asked me sternly, “What is a sorority?”

Where, oh where in this world, was I supposed to start?

I told him it started in the most simplistic chaotic way. Six years ago, I went to college and a girl named Heather who I knew from my hometown, told me about a thing called sororities and this crazy little thing called “RUSH”, which at first sounded like a heard of freshman trying to navigate their way around campus continuously crashing into each other, but turned out to be a term for speed dating sorority women. This girl, looked my bun-head, punk rock style, freshie self and said, “Jen, you really should come see what it’s all about.”

And my skeptical, “this is SO not for me” rebellious mindset started kicking through my bones but I went through sorority recruitment anyway and I found these girls who learned all about who I was and instead of laughing at my weirdo ways, took me by the hand and ran with me, making me feel like it was okay to be a little different, and 6 years after joining, they never made me change who I was. 

They only made me grow up, just enough.

Living in this 9-(whenever I get out of work) real world, I only ever hear about sororities, unfortunately, when they are in the news for bad, unthinkable, things. And whenever I introduce the fun-fact that underneath these black slacks and 9pm bed time ways, I am a “sorority girl”, people always ask me about the hypothetical terrible things they assume I endured. But they, and you, will learn that like anything else in this world (boyfriends, jobs, hobbies), you get whatever it is you put into it and you must only stand beside people and things you believe in, or else you will fail miserably.

There are many different sororities, with many different women who join them and dance with them for different reasons. I can only fairly speak on behalf of my experience, so I won’t generalize or stereotype the whole sorority experience as being “rainbows and butterflies”, but I'll tell you this.

When you ask me about the crazy parties or rumors of nasty, degrading hazing, I’ll tell you that at the age of 18, I was the newsletter chair of my sorority because I loved to write. At 20, I was the Vice President of Philanthropy, raising tens of thousands of dollars for two causes that were founded or influenced by sisters. At 21, I was the President, but more importantly the role model of 150 impressionable and resilient women.

It does not just matter why you joined things or why you started something; we start new things every day. Job positions, inseparable relationships, lines outside of Jamba Juice, goals to finally hit up the gym.  It’s about what keeps us, if we stay.  And you will learn, that if you stay for the long-haul, the marathon sprint, you’ll stay for the right reasons.  Because the wrong reasons exhaust us, make our faces wrinkle and our hair gray. Leave us with upset stomachs and indigestion.

You’ll see.

Some things in life stay together, but most things will fall apart. Hold on real tightly and celebrate the nouns that keep you from falling apart.

 Jen Glantz is a 20-something crawling the streets of NYC. You can find her in a tutu and converses, surrounded by overdue library books, pizza crust and the spontaneous combustion of laughter that often shoots the chocolate milk right out of her nostrils. Jen is a proud graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she received her B.A. in both journalism and English. Read Jen’s latest work on her blog “The Things I Learned From,” ( or shoot her an email: