Approachability—A Key Officer Characteristic

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer


A word often used in leadership and management circles, but rarely defined—at least to any degree of clarity in my mind. In my experiences, people will approach you with their thoughts, ideas, opinions, likes, dislikes, and more only after they:

  • Trust you with their thoughts, ideas, opinions…;
  • Believe that you will “take care” of their thoughts, ideas, opinions…;
  • Believe that you’ll do what you say you’ll do—keep your promises.

But to quote the old adage, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It’s up to you as the coach or mentor or leader to make the first move in creating and nurturing those sentiments in your people.

A real turning point–in terms of my personal approachability–in my career came when I read Navy Captain (Ret.) David Abrahoff’s book, It’s Your Ship, It's your Ship Coverbecause doing so really helped me to understand the above adage. I borrowed one of the Captain’s tools and used it whenever I took over a new unit. It involved asking everyone in the unit—firefighters, officers, civilian employees alike—the following three questions during “one-on-one” interviews.

  • What do you like about working in this unit?
  • What don’t you like about working in this unit?
  • If you had my job, what one thing would you change tomorrow?

Think that’s too big of a task to take on in your world? Captain Abrashoff interviewed every one of the 300+ sailors and officers in his world, the U.S. Navy destroyer Benfold. In doing so, he and his people took the Benfold from “worst to first” in the entire U.S. Navy fleet (based on the Navy’s evaluations of performance and combat readiness).




USS Benfold PhotoAfter I completed the interviews, I typed up all the responses (no names attached) and then shared the responses with everyone in the unit. Then I made it my mission to do things daily that:

  • Would reinforce their responses to Question #1;
  • Sought solutions for their responses to Question #2; and
  • Sought ways to make their responses to Question #3 responses a reality.

Was it a lot of work? You bet. Was it worth it? You bet.

So, what are you doing to improve your approachability today?

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].