Beyond the Open Door


Michael Warren

July 1, 2021

July 1, 2021

“I have an open door policy” seems to be one of the requirements of those who gain formal authority in an organization. It’s possible that it’s one of those non-negotiable tenants that one must accept in order to get promoted.

Now don’t get me wrong – I support the intent behind the open door policy. It is meant to convey that an agency member is always welcome to approach leadership with an issue, a question, or to just be able to talk. Except that they’re not.

Some with this type of policy do not want to hear about issues. Knowing about it means, in most cases, that something must be done to address it. Some truly believe in the mantra that “ignorance is bliss.” Except, again, that it’s not.

There are also those that do not particularly like questions. Again, because questions need answers. And sometimes those questions are tough. Sometimes the questions require commitment. Some believe it’s ok to simply refuse to answer questions they don’t like – but, again, it’s not.

Holders of an open door policy may also profess that they want to get to know those that they supervise. Just about any management class will tell you the importance of developing relationships with subordinates. But that is hard work. And it can take SOOOOOO long! Forever it seems! And leaders have way more important things to do. Except, once again, that they don’t.

Just a couple of thoughts here on open door policies in general. If used properly, they can be incredibly effective. To be effective leaders must accept good news and bad news. In fact, if someone brings you bad news that is a good sign. It’s a sign that they trust you and that they believe you will do the right thing.

Questions must be answered. Even the ones you’re not sure of. Saying “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer – as long as you follow up on it and find the answer. Admitting this lets others in the organization know that you are human. And it’s the human connection that is needed to build relationships which lead to trust.

One of the things that can really increase the effectiveness of an open door policy is to not always have an open door. Intentional scheduled times where the door is closed allows for work to be done somewhat uninterrupted. This will allow for the door owner to be much more receptive when the invitation to talk is exercised.

Leaders should want to be talked to – they certainly need it. The best leaders recognize this and go beyond the open door. Sometimes the door is closed, but when it’s opened, they intentionally and empathetically listen.