The Open Door

The term “open door” is often considered a policy. But I think about it a bit differently. While leadership is often defined as a set of behaviors by which one person influences others toward the achievement of goals, it is really about providing growth, enrichment, and opportunity. Put more simply, leadership is about momentum and results. While these definitions are true, they somehow fall short. What mechanism should a leader use, for example, to “influence” strong performance? Has leadership evolved beyond carrots and sticks? And what about the people being led? Besides a paycheck, what do they get out of getting results for the leader? What’s in it for them? After all, the leader’s success depends on them, right? What’s missing is opportunity.

In exchange for advancing the leader’s goals, the people being led should expect work opportunities that provide:

  • Growth and personal development
  • Career fulfillment and enrichment
  • Acquisition of new skills
  • Financial gain and other rewards
  • Greater access to leadership roles

Work Opportunities

People and organizations grow and develop to the extent that they capitalize on opportunities to do so. Opportunities are important to leaders because they’re important to the people they lead. Opportunities are the venues where people can try, test, better, and even find themselves. The leader’s job is to match the opportunity to the person and to help the person—and the organization—exploit that opportunity for all it’s worth. Open-door leadership is about noticing, identifying, and creating opportunities for those being led.

Think for a moment about a leader you greatly admire. Pick someone who has led you, rather than someone on the world stage. What do you admire about him or her? Did he open a door to an opportunity where you could grow your skills or improve yourself, such as asking you to lead a high-profile project? How did she help illuminate a blind spot by giving you candid feedback that caused you to see yourself in a different and more honest way? Did he build your confidence by asking for your perspective, input, and ideas? Or did she openly advocate for your promotion, showing you how much she valued you? What doors did he open for you?

My bet is that the leaders you most admire are the ones who left you better off than they found you by creating opportunities that helped you grow. How?

  • By being open to you, valuing your input and perspective
  • By being open with you, telling you the truth even if the truth is difficult to hear
  • By helping you be receptive to new possibilities and experiences and new ways of perceiving and thinking.

Open-door leadership involves creating or assigning opportunities in order to promote growth. By promoting the growth of those they lead, leaders increase the likelihood of their own success and advancement. They also increase the likelihood of creating other leaders, which is essential to building a lasting leadership legacy. Leaders create leaders by opening doors of opportunity that have a positive and lasting impact on the behavior of those they lead.

What Open Door Leadership is not

To be clear, open-door leadership is not about having an open-door policy. Such policies are just more management hokum. One of the surest signs of a rookie leader is the claim, “I have an open-door policy, and my door is always open so my employees can get to me.” Allowing yourself to be continuously interrupted is a recipe for lousy leadership. If your door is always open, how on earth can you get any work done on behalf of the people who are interrupting you? Open-door leadership is not about having a policy of keeping your door open to others. It’s about taking action to open doors for others. It is about so much more than giving people unfettered access to you.

As a leader, it is important to have a clear understanding of what your role is. How are you facilitating growth? Are you leaving those you lead better than you found them? Transform your idea of the open door from a policy to how you lead.

How are you opening doors for your team? 

This post is based on an excerpt from Leaders Open Doors.

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