Effective leaders strive to strike the right social distance with the people they lead. The social distance between leaders and followers refers to the emotional closeness experienced in the relationship. Too much social distance between a leader and those they lead can create a sense that the leader is unapproachable and unconcerned with issues not directly affecting them. A leader who creates too much social space won’t get the bad news and honest feedback they need to hear.
The absence of social distance is equally problematic. Leaders who are highly immediate with their followers are often treated as peers and have a difficult time garnering respect. This can compromise a leader's ability to bring focus to an issue. Team members may even resist the advocacy of a leader who is perceived as a peer.
Finding the ideal balance in the social distance is never easy. Leaders who get taken for granted must increase distance, while those who are avoided or intimidate others must close the distance gap. The artful creation of the appropriate distance requires leaders to accurately assess the distance that currently exists in their follower relationships. The best clues exist in how leaders are treated by others. How often do others speak openly around you and engage you like you are one of the team? Or do they defer to your leadership status and treat you more formally than they do others?
Leadership success depends on being both approachable and earnest. Social distance often explains why some leaders are or are not effective with their teams. Are you too close to or too far from those you lead?