Open door policies don’t work. I’m not saying that no one will ever “pop” in, they may. What I am saying is that using an open door policy as your answer to people surfacing issues, questions, uncertainties, and challenges is not only unrealistic, it’s blind and irresponsible. I know, I know, that sounds harsh. But you’ve heard us say this before and we’ll say it again and again- leadership is about responsibility. People being open, honest, and communicative certainly doesn’t solely rest on you, but as a leader who has power and influence, it certainly does begin with you.
The Impact of Power
Sometimes people want to push back on this idea of having power. It makes them uncomfortable because they have a negative connotation of the word. But power in and of itself isn’t bad- it’s the misuse and abuse of power that’s bad. There are plenty of people who occupy their power, whether they were born into it, handed it, or achieved it, for good. It starts with acknowledging you have power. And, as a leader, you definitely have positional power. Even if you aren’t the CEO or on the board.
So, what does this all have to do with an open door policy? In one study, nearly half of all workers didn’t speak up or give input because they either weren’t asked explicitly or they lacked the courage. Think of your company or your team and then remove half of the people. That’s the impact of that statistic- say goodbye to half of the perspectives, half of the oversight into potential pitfalls, half of the new thoughts, half of the questions that evoke bigger thinking. Half.
Your power directly influences how willing people are to walk into your open door– especially when there’s something difficult or of great consequence they are bringing. So, while your open door is super well intentioned and we see you trying to be an inviting leader, it’s not enough. It may work for some- I used to have a really close relationship with a leader of mine. Over the years we traveled and worked on several projects together which strengthened our relationship. Because of those experiences, I had zero problem using her open door. But that wasn’t the case for plenty of my colleagues. A fine example of my relational privilege.
How to be Proactive
Without taking deliberate, proactive action people will sit quietly in the background while the ones with the privilege pop in and out. And stories get made up about the people who are always “putting themselves out there” and offering up “innovative new ideas” while those with less power and privilege keep to themselves and their stories get made up to. About “failing to contribute” or “not being a team player”. You can see how this can go sideways fast right?!
So, if an open door isn’t enough, what’s a leader to do?!
Recognize and own your power and do so responsibly. That often means working to have your intent aligns with your impact – tools like 360’s can be great to gather that type of insight to know where gaps exist.
Create systems that generate sharing, learning, and challenging. There are some great tools in Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead™ like the “turn and learn” where everyone writes their response to a question posed to the team on a sticky and all responses get revealed simultaneously. I’d also suggest looking into the concepts of the halo and bandwagon effect.
Use pointed questions. As a coach, I love open-ended questions. But sometimes, they can be really big and general (ie: how’s it going? Anything I need to know?). Keep your inquiries open, and narrow them a bit – “what haven’t we thought about?”, “What would we do if we had more time?”, “Where are we missing an opportunity to invest?”, “If the budget was given to you, what would you do first?”, “on a scale of 1-10, where is your motivation right now?”
Watch your reactions when people do bravely share. So much of communication is in our body language, facial expressions, tone, and other non-verbals. These send a message of- “what are you thinking?!”, “tell me more”, and everything in between. Take measures to have your non-verbals align with the message you want to send.
Articulate genuine appreciation for the input, question, request, etc. What came out of it may make your life complicated, you may not know how to move forward, it may have triggered some difficult feelings for you. It’s your responsibility, as a leader, to work through all of that in a skillful way. Offering up a simple but genuine, “thank you for bringing that up, I’m sure it wasn’t easy, and it’s important information for me to know” will help support contribution in the future.
You Don’t Have to Go it Alone
Leadership is a responsibility but it’s not one that you have to figure out alone. At 10X we believe in building community and turning to that community for support, direction, laughter, and ideation. We’re here to support you and your responsible use of your power as a leader, reach out and let us know what you need and we’ll see how we can help!