Leaders – Are Your Open Doors Really Open?

As I was driving home from a meeting the other night, I passed a sign announcing an upcoming rest area.  I’m sure you’ve seen one in your travels. 

Usually, the sign notifies drivers  that there are rest rooms, snack machines, or perhaps an information center with maps to help drivers find their way.

Often, rest areas are used by long distance travellers as a place to park, get out of the car and stretch out.  Sometimes, families will stop and have a picnic lunch, or perhaps will use the rest spot to let the children work out some energy and let Mom and Dad relax.  Maybe the driver grabs a quick cup of coffee to help stay awake for the rest of the trip.

Whatever the need, a rest area is often a welcome sign for a tired driver.

On my recent trip, I was greeted with an unfamiliar and unwelcome sign signally the exit for the upcoming rest area. Rather than seeing the typical sign to exit for a rest stop, I was greeted with another sign telling me that the road was closed. This road sign simply had the words “REST AREA” in big white letters with another yellow sign posted diagonally across it: “CLOSED.” Arrrgh!

Imagine how a weary traveller might feel.

A manager’s office or workspace can be like a highway rest area for an employee.

It can be a place to recharge one’s motivation, seek advice, get direction, or work through conflict.  Many people in leadership and management say they have an open door policy.  The welcoming inference of “feel free to stop by anytime” is communicated in both written and verbal communications. We encourage team members to come see us if they have a question or concern.

What do they find when they arrive?

But is the door really open?  Do we welcome our frustrated and weary travelers in?  Or, do we tell them to schedule a meeting before we even find out why they want to visit with us?  Are we providing a brief respite from stress for team members or are we adding to it? Is there an imaginary “CLOSED” sign, illustrated by our attitude or actions?

When people feel they need a few moments of our time, we can respond in two ways:

  • We can send them off without relief, essentially making them travel on to the next rest stop without the help or direction they needed.  Hopefully, there won’t be disastrous consequences.
  • Or, we can welcome them in, listen to them, offer a challenge or direction.  They can then continue on their journey, knowing they are heading in the right direction toward their destination.

Of course, there are times when the office door must be closed.  There are times when we simply cannot drop everything and be immediately available.  Sometimes, we simply can’t stop and chat for a few minutes in the hallway.  However, if those occasions are the exception, rather than the rule, our team members will understand.  They know that we are also travelling down a busy road.  We then must take it upon ourselves to follow-up, find out what they needed and arrange a time to meet.

As with any policy, there are pros and cons.

BusinessSourceKnowledge.com offers this list:

  • It takes away intimidation factors when management is approachable
  • Employee trust increases when employees know there is someone they can go to if an issue remains unresolved with their manager
  • The manager’s problem solving skills increase

On the other hand:

  • Employees will often bypass their immediate supervisor or manager, even though that person could have solved the problem
  • Open door policies take away or limit a middle-manager’s opportunities to resolve issues, making it seem that only senior management are the problem-solvers
  • It can create tension between a middle manager who was bypassed by an employee who went “over their head” for an answer

These and more issues around an open door policy must be carefully considered by an oranization.  However, if an open door policy is put in place and communicated to employees, management and leadership must abide by it.

What do you offer your team members as they are travelling along their career path?  What signs do they see as they approach you?  A rest area or just another traffic jam along the road? Is your “open door” really open, or is it closed? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today.
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Eleanor Biddulph
Eleanor Biddulph
 is the EVP of Client Services at Progressive Medical, Inc.
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

Image Sources: http://www.petergreenberg.com, media.newsvirginian.com


4 responses to “Leaders – Are Your Open Doors Really Open?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Leaders – Are Your Open Doors Really Open? « Linked 2 Leadership -- Topsy.com·

  2. Thanks Tom,
    For your benign approach!
    How can I collaborate? We are more into ‘change’ rather than focussing ourselves on leadership issues, although the latter is inevitably a part of change!


  3. I’m not surprised to see that Eleanor Biddulph posted on this topic .

    As a Training Manager, I supported the team of Managers who reported directly to El. During the time we worked together, I found her door was always open to me.

    El’s open door policy allowed the opportunity for collaboration and helped me to obtain better end results from a Training/Organizational Development perspective. Her willingness to be a sounding board for ideas often allowed me to explore different approaches and solutions that I would not have pursued without her open communication style and her willingness to guide and to share ideas.

    As mentioned in the posing, there are some cons that may be present with such a policy however my personal experience has been that they are far exceeded by the pros.


    • Bob, how nice to hear from you! Thanks for stopping by L2L and commenting on my post. I, too, recall working with you. Collaboration usually does lead to a better outcome for all involved. Happy new year!


Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s