Earlier this week I wrote a post stating that leaders should have a closed door policy. This post has created lots of conversation – I have received a number of emails, had personal conversations and several people wrote lengthy comments on the blog post as well.
I’ll admit I used the “closed door” metaphor to purposefully get people’s attention. I also knew it came with some risks, not only is flipping a time-honored idea on it’s head seldom safe, I was also suggesting people close the door on those they lead – a radical proposition.
Mission accomplished on both fronts.
Because of all that conversation, I thought I would write a companion, follow-up post to explore some of the concerns, better explain my key points, and most importantly, make sure my message wasn’t lost in the “open door, closed door” metaphor.
Responding to Comments
Below are some of the key ideas people shared in response to the idea of a Closed Door Policy:
- Leaders have got to be available – that is our job. I agree completely (and I stated that in the post). AND . . . for most leaders their job is more than only leading and managing people, but also doing other work that is theirs as well. Even if your role is solely supervising others, as a leader you must be thinking about the big picture, creating and moving towards a vision – and these tasks can’t be done well without time to think . If we are always at the “beck and call” of our team, they will always be “calling” – this behavior is inefficient for everyone. Which leads to the next stated concern . . .
- As good coaches we must be looking for the teachable moment. Again, I completely agree! The teachable moments – those times when people are most open to learning something new is a huge coaching opportunity! AND . . . those moments are often stronger and more powerful when the other person has spent some time thinking about their challenge, considering some options, rather than immediately running to your office door at the first inkling of an issue. When the door is always open, when there are no impediments to asking a question, most people will come in before they have thought about the situation much themselves.
- This idea is interesting, but it will never work – your boss /the organization won’t let it! There is no question that current cultures, habits and expectations are deeply ingrained and that may make some of these things a bit difficult to implement immediately and completely. AND . . . that isn’t an excuse for not using them, or trying to be a positive force for change in your organization! If you know something will work, start small and persuade through success. That is what leaders do any way – they lead the way.
- The door idea makes no sense! people are virtually dispersed and knowledge workers – the door doesn’t mean anything at all – and this is an invalid thought process! This is also true, as the world, the context of work, the technology and the expectations that come from all of that have changed, the door as a metaphor may have less validity than it once did. AND . . . I hear leaders telling people they have an “open door” all the time – and the digital equivalent is even more prevalent – you can reach me anytime on one of my devices. Monday, I will write more about the digital doorway.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Collectively these four bullet points tell us something else more powerful. As leader we live in a “yes, and” world, not a either/or” world. I agree with each of the points of concern or contention shared AND they don’t change my opinion about the “closed door policy.”
Further Explaining My Perspective
As the title of this post states, the door is just a metaphor. Which means that, it might not mean you are literally closing the door (though I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that necessarily).
- “The door” is about productivity decisions. The reality is that the more you are interrupted, the less productive you are. Will there be times we must live in an interrupted world? Of course! Does that mean we as leaders have no chance to impact those interruptions at all? Closing the door is one way to exercise that control.
- “The door” is about boundaries. It isn’t about hiding or abdicating or being a less effective leader. It is about setting clear expectations and boundaries with your team about how and when you will all communicate for greatest effectiveness. The agreements go both ways – allowing your team to have the uninterrupted time (from you and others on the team) to be productive is important too. My goal wasn’t to tell you exactly how to set these boundaries or what they are, but rather to challenge you to set some.
- “The door” is about expectations. Once boundaries are set, expectations come along. Once expectations are clear, everyone will be more effective and trust can be built. As you are setting expectations you can make it clear why you are setting them, and dispel any concerns (like the ones described above) that people have about these new (potential radical) expectations.
- “The door” is about choices. As a leader you must make choices. Not all of them are easy – and the idea of the closed door policy may well not be easy to set or enforce. It reminds us though that we have choices, and those choices have implication to productivity, employee growth, trust and many other important factors.
- “The door” reminds us that the urgent is the enemy of the important. Providing coaching, wise counsel, support and resources to our team members is certainly important work – and creating the right expectations and boundaries can actually provide more time for these important interactions. On the other hand, not every interruption falls into the important category – far more often these “do you have a minutes” are about what is urgent to the other person, and perhaps not important (or not important at this moment).
- “The door” isn’t an excuse. Leaders must lead, and coaches must coach. You can not be an effective leader if your door is always closed, hiding from your team (any more than you can be an effective leader if you are always in a meeting.) You must be accessible, available, and willing to help your team. It is a critical part of our leadership role, and you can do that (even more effectively) when you create boundaries, set expectations, and make choices.
I hope this followup post is helpful to you – to continue challenging your thinking about this important part of our leadership role – how to we balance our time among multiple competing (and important) considerations.