An Open Door Policy – A Barometer of Your Leadership

As a business coach, I’m always on the look-out for articles and seminars from well-respected experts on effective leadership. But I want to make sure those articles and seminars will add value to your business life; therefore, I read as much as I can. I recently discovered one such book; The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell by Oren Harari.

In this book, Harari reviews 18 leadership lessons derived from General Powell. One of the lessons says, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care”.

Reading and thinking about this lesson made me recall managers I have had as well as times when I managed people and practiced having an open door policy. I wish I could say that I always followed the leadership lessons Colin Powell touts with my own open door policy, but that probably wouldn’t be entirely true.

I believe every manager, no matter their level of responsibility should allow their staff members to visit one-on-one. But in doing so, you should ask yourself: “Is this policy really working in this company?” You can measure the barometer of your leadership from your people by how they do or don’t take advantage of your open door policy.

Some managers can count on a long line outside his office door most of the day, every day. But if people are constantly coming to you for answers, perhaps you should ask yourself a few questions.

o Have I provided them the training they need?

o Are they worried they will not have another opportunity to meet with me?

o Have I empowered them to feel confident they can make their own decision?

o How do I react when they do make a decision that I do not agree with?

o Is this person in the right position, and able to manage daily decisions?

By asking yourself these questions – and answering them with complete honesty – you will begin to see a pattern in yourself as a manager. And you will probably discover that your continued avoidance of the issue and the enabling of your staff to come to you is probably not the best way to conduct business. In this environment, the company is not receiving all of the innovative power they need of their people in order to help the company succeed. The business will never grow past the point of one manager giving out all of the ideas and directions which creates low morale among team members.

The other end of the spectrum is the manager who never sees anyone outside his office waiting to ask a question or gain clarity on a project. This could be even more deadly than too many people outside the Open Door. Even if everyone is well trained, empowered and has all the tools ever developed for them to do their jobs well, people will invariably still need to talk through some aspect of their work. So if you know of managers who have little or no traffic at their door – or if you are one of them, ask:

o When people bring things to me, do I automatically go into prescription mode, offering fixes or do I seek to help them find the best answer?

o Do I really listen or do I still answer e-mails while they are talking to me?

o If someone brings up something, do I always take some action and provide follow-up?

o Am I humble enough to allow others to bring ideas to a situation?

o Does our office culture see asking for help as a weakness?

Either situation is an innovation killer. In the first scenario, no one is brave enough to bring new ideas to the manager, and in the second no one thinks it will make a difference so they don’t even bother to try. Real leaders make themselves available and accessible to everyone in the organization. They must show concern for the efforts and challenges of their people. Doing so goes a long way to building a positive culture or figuring out better ways to achieve success.

What is your leadership barometer reading right now? Perhaps it’s time to recalibrate. Here’s how:

1. Set very clear expectations for your people, and make sure they know that you trust them to make things happen but only if you really do trust them. If not, that is another subject altogether and can be covered in another article later.

2. Provide feedback on a regular basis. Sometimes employees may be coming in your door because they simply need affirmation. Everyone has a different requirement for strokes; make sure you are providing them.

3. Set regularly scheduled meetings with every one of your people. Depending on their needs and the dynamics of their role, they may need a daily, weekly or a monthly huddle with you. Never go beyond a month’s time without meeting with your staff. Ask them to hold onto things that can wait for the scheduled meeting but help them to understand that if the building is on fire, you’ll welcome the interruption.

4. Make sure everyone in the organization understands that you value and want their ideas and input, especially if they know something that will benefit the company, employees, or the customer base.

5. Take action and follow-up on everything that you accept. Watch out for people that are just looking to dump an issue in your lap for resolution because they don’t want to deal with it themselves.
As a manager and leader, it is often very tempting to stop having an open door. Frustration grows when people bring things to your attention that are indeed real issues, but they come with no offer for improvement or suggested solutions.

Encourage your staff to bring the challenge and offer up a resolution without feeling as if they need to ask your permission to move forward. If they believe in the course of action, give them the green light to pursue it. To create an environment of such trust through an open door policy, make sure that you have the right people in the right jobs, they have the training and tools needed for success and then make sure you tell them of your expectations.

Reviewing your own barometer as a leader will help your staff learn how to read their own barometer and make improvements that will benefit the company as a whole.