As I work with leaders to
ditch the drama and turn excuses into results, I am shocked to see the number
of leaders who still tout an open door policy! I feel the urge to apologize on behalf of all of us who have
ever suggested that an open door policy would lead to results–we lied, we had
no research to support this notion, it just sounded good, and we are so
sorry! Now please close your doors
and start coaching rather than hosting a complaint desk.
Rather than helping, the
practice of the open door has proven to be disastrous. The practice produces
few if any real changes in the organization and often hijacks resources that
could be focused on real issues. The practice actually limits the growth
potential of employees who utilize the option and exhausts the leaders who
Just think about it … those
of you have proudly publicized that you have an open door … has anyone ever
come to you and asked for a moment of your time because they are concerned
about THEIR OWN attitude, work ethic, recent performance, less-than-stellar
results, or treatment of their co-workers?
Most always, employees come
through the open door to report concerns about others, to tattle, to report
their analysis and judgment of co-workers, to provide leaders with a list of
things they’d like to see changed in their reality or even to provide leaders
with an evaluation of the leaders’ strengths, weaknesses and development needs.
Rarely can a leader cite examples where an employee used the open door for
self-improvement, self-reflection or self-motivated growth.
What then is the benefit of
an open door? To spend hours talking about the performance of others? To focus
on all the ways in which the organization is a disappointment? To spend time
together “hoping” for a change? All of these activities are a colossal waste of
resources, provide little if any ROI and may actually negate the work you are
doing to get your employees to be personally accountable and able to succeed in
their new realities.
So how do you break the
feel-good habit of “my door is always open”?
Close the door and start
developing your people. Rather than waiting for informants to come through your
door with their complaints or concerns, consistently schedule time with each
employee and use the time to talk about the situations that present the
greatest challenges to them. Work on bulletproofing your people and increasing
their immunity to their circumstances. Coach them to quit wishing their
circumstances were better and instead to be better themselves. Be diligent
about challenging their current mindsets so that they can impact their own
realities, with or without you.
Or, if you must … Keep your door open and
teach the person in front of you. Use the moment to develop
the employee present–focus on them solely. Make judging politically
incorrect; insist that the employee stops judging and starts helping. Ask
questions that refocus the employee on their part in the current outcome such
What did you do to help?
What are the facts of the
What can you do to add
It is not about the door
being open, but about you as a leader opening up employees’ mindsets and
willingness to change the way they see their circumstances rather than wishing
that their circumstances were different.
approachability and open doors with leadership–leadership is the consistent
and constant effort to conserve resources normally spent on drama and using
them instead on activities that will produce results. So conserve resources and
close the dang door!
Cy Wakeman is a dynamic keynote speaker advocating a revolutionary new approach to
leadership. Her groundbreaking ideas are featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and
SHRM.org. She is a significant thought leader with entertaining podcasts
on thegurunation.com and is a favorite expert blogger on
FastCompany.com. Her book, Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the
Workplace, & Turn Excuses Into Results (Jossey-Bass, 2010) is now available for order at all major online book
retailers. For more information, visit www.cywakeman.com.