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Top 10 Traits of User-Friendly Leaders

Do your employees love you or fear you? Here are 10 ways to get them on your side.

By Richard Ensman

These days, “user-friendliness” is a valued commodity. User-friendly appliances, computers, customer service, and information save time and increase comfort. And now there’s another new phenomenon: the user-friendly leader. Call this style of leadership anything you want—accessible, open or up front—it has the same valued characteristics as do other user-friendly commodities.

Are you a user-friendly leader? Does your leadership style add value, convenience and results to the people around you? Not sure? Think about these traits of user-friendly leaders and resolve to build as many of them as possible into your work style:

The open door
User-friendly leaders keep an open door, symbolically and literally. They pride themselves on being accessible to employees and customers, and they’re constantly looking for ways to encourage others to drop by.

The loose tie
User-friendly leaders know that formality can, at times, become a barrier to effective communication. So these leaders are quick to adopt a casual style of dress (always keeping within their organizations’ practices) and demeanor. Some loose-tie leaders even sport "Talk to Me" buttons on their lapels to encourage communication.

User-friendly leaders know that formality can, at times, become a barrier to effective communication.

Down and dirty
User-friendly leaders are not afraid to become involved in the problem-solving thicket. They’ll set up ad-hoc work teams, conduct brainstorming sessions, experiment and push for unconventional solutions until the problems are solved. And they’ll stay intimately involved the whole time.

In the trenches
Although it’s not their immediate responsibility, these leaders occasionally work alongside their employees, partly to gain insight into their jobs and partly to demonstrate an interest in what they do each day. These leaders also take the time to participate in after-hours activities like employee dinners, bowling leagues, or other social activities.

The quick laugh
To the user-friendly leader, the occasional joke and regular recollection of humorous incidents are part and parcel of the job. These leaders know how to laugh and how to create relaxed work environments.

Never-ending learning
A “learning culture” is present in many 21st–century organizations, from mega-corporations to the smallest of businesses. User-friendly leaders embrace this philosophy. They never stop learning and they’re quick to acquire new skills—from technology skills to people skills—alongside their employees.

Real people
User-friendly leaders don’t sit on lofty symbolic platforms. They share their thoughts and interests with the people around them and are quick to talk about everything—from current business concerns to last week’s soccer game with the kids.

Great relationships
User-friendly leaders do more than communicate well. They get to know the people around them and understand their concerns, fears and ambitions. They’re quick to foster relationships and do whatever they can to help their people become more satisfied with the roles they play.

If there’s ever a mystique about the all-knowing leader, user-friendly leaders do their best to dispel it. They know that expertise in today’s knowledge economy rests with the entire team—from highly skilled technicians to folks at the front counter. They’re never afraid to ask for advice and help from any source, and they’re quick to acknowledge that they need it.

Love of tradition
User-friendly leaders know that customs and traditions help build a sense of stability within their organizations. Weekly staff meetings, quarterly award ceremonies and time-honored courtesies as employees come and go each day are all valued by user-friendly leaders eager to leave their people with a sense of security and satisfaction.

So ask yourself: Am I a user-friendly leader? Do I demonstrate the traits of openness and up-front management so necessary for success? To be sure, positive leadership means more than practicing user-friendly habits, but for a contemporary leader, these habits are a great place to start.

Richard Ensman is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to He can be reached at

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