When your open-door policy is bad leadership

“Reach out if you need anything.” 

“I’m here if you have questions.”

“My door is always open.”

Chances are, you’ve stated one, two, or all of these items as a folks chief. And it’s extremely doubtless that you simply not solely stated them however you meant them. After all, being accessible to your colleagues for questions, issues, and challenges is a part of serving to them navigate every little thing from return-to-work conversations to workplace politics.

Furthermore, so many people have had our personal efforts and engagement thwarted by micromanagers that we could also be cautious of repeating the sample with our direct experiences. And so, we use “My door is always open” as code for “I don’t want to micromanage you, but I also don’t want to leave you flailing.” We wish to be useful and supportive, and making ourselves accessible to them is a straightforward means to try this.

However, an open-door coverage is useful provided that you may truly ship on its intent. Far too usually, we provide an invite for our colleagues to ask questions or share opinions when it is probably not the time or the place. By placing the accountability on others to method us relatively than us pondering strategically about what they want, we could also be under-leading—which could be each bit as dangerous as micromanaging.

In our e-book, Go to Help: 31 Strategies to Offer, Ask for, and Accept Help, my coauthor Sophie Riegel and I share three conditions the place you might want to assist another way, relatively than simply providing an open (bodily or digital) door:

1) Your colleague lacks the information, abilities, or expertise to perform the duty. For instance, in case your gross sales supervisor doesn’t know how you can use their up to date CRM software program, they want hands-on, directive instruction to learn the way. “Come to me with any questions” isn’t useful when somebody has nothing however questions.

How to assist as an alternative: Provide them with coaching, and the time to course of the brand new info. Give them examples of what success seems to be like, and develop a plan for them to study and observe their new abilities. Anticipate the questions they might have, and verify in often to provide suggestions on their progress.

2) Compliance is extra vital than dedication. If your expectation is that your group members adjust to the corporate’s mandate to get vaccinated earlier than they return to the workplace, telling your workers that your door is at all times open to questions or issues about this can be deceptive. It might ship a sign that this coverage is open to dialogue or negotiation, which it is probably not.

Another model of that is whenever you’ve determined that there’s a proper means or mistaken strategy to do one thing. If you count on your colleague to observe a particular course of or use a tried-and-true method, your “open-door policy” is partially closed—a minimum of to questions or recommendations about doing issues in another way.

How to assist as an alternative: Communicate the why behind the choice—and in addition count on that not everybody might be joyful. Let folks know what’s open to dialogue and negotiation (for instance, that they’ll submit proof of vaccination anytime inside an eight-week interval, or that they’ll select to do business from home for the subsequent six months in the event that they resolve to not get vaccinated but).

Also, clarify what shouldn’t be acceptable (akin to exhibiting as much as the workplace only for consumer conferences in the event that they’re not vaccinated, or complaining in regards to the coverage on each supervision name). By speaking expectations truthfully, overtly, and persistently, in addition to giving folks the chance to “disagree and commit,” you’re being extra useful than giving folks false hope.

3) When a call must be made instantly or there’s a disaster. There’s been a constructing safety breach. Everyone must exit the workplace instantly and collect within the car parking zone subsequent door for the subsequent set of directions. Offering an open-door coverage for questions might gradual an pressing mandate down whenever you need folks to behave now and ask questions later.

How to assist as an alternative: Make positive your verbal (message), vocal (tone of voice), and visible (physique language) cues all match to mirror the gravity or immediacy of the scenario. If they don’t match, persons are extra prone to ignore the content material of what you’re saying in favor of visible cues.

Tell folks clearly and repeatedly what they should do, by when, and why. You can also want to inform them that you simply can’t take questions proper now (or that you simply don’t know greater than what you’ve shared with them), however that you simply’ll be accessible to debate and debrief at a later time.

This is what I personally skilled whereas evacuating my Manhattan workplace constructing on 9/11, proper after watching the second airplane hit the World Trade Center by way of my window. Our chief stated that there had been an assault on the Twin Towers, and we had been to exit the constructing instantly through the steps, and to move uptown—away from the chaos. She additionally defined that she had no extra info than that, however that she’d keep in touch with all of us later that day or night to share subsequent steps in regards to the workplace reopening—which she did. And certainly, within the days following, she made herself accessible for dialogue, debrief, care, and compassion past something she had doubtless skilled earlier than.

We all wish to have useful leaders—and be useful leaders. Knowing what sort of assist to provide isn’t so simple as leaving our doorways open. It takes a variety of useful practices to keep away from micromanaging or under-leading.

Deborah Grayson Riegel is a keynote speaker and guide who teaches management communication for Wharton Business School and Columbia Business School. She is coauthor of Go to Help: 31 Strategies to Offer, Ask for, and Accept Help.

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