The Myth of the Open Door

In the business world, certain ideas take hold in people’s minds perpetually. These axioms are taken as true without questioning, in part because they are repeated so often by so many people.

One of these unquestioned truisms: “A manager should maintain an open door policy.” I challenge you to question the value of this concept.

Most managers who claim an “open door” operate under an erroneous assumption: that if the door’s open, people will walk through it and voluntarily engage in the type of open dialog that develops trust and honest communication with their boss.

The fact is the manager’s “open door” often represents a passively aggressive stance towards employees. The manager wears the “open door” like a badge of courage, but ends up blaming employees for not keeping them in the loop, sharing important news, or waving the red flag when things go sideways.

So confronted with failed projects, exiting employees, and lost customers, the managers who pride themselves on their open doors are left to wonder, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Strangely enough, they’ve been hiding behind their open door.

Here’s the truth: as a manager it’s your job to know what’s going on.

The only way to do so is to actively engage with your employees (most often on your terms and your schedule). This means you are highly organized — you track the progress of important activities in your business without waiting for people to enter your office with their hair on fire.

Your open door policy should really indicate that you consistently walk out that door and interact with the people doing the work.


Stop deceiving yourself that your “open door” policy is a sufficient invitation for your people to engage. Create engagement with your people through well-run meetings (how well are your meetings run?), well-organized project planning and execution (how well are your projects run?), and simply wandering around and observing (how often do you do so?).

Check out the new workshop series! Registration ends January 22, 2010. Classes begin February 18th. Limited space available. Inquire now to hold your space.

About the Author

Jim Hessler
Jim Hessler bootstrapped his way from retail work into a successful career as salesman, sales manager, Fortune 500 executive, and corporate turnaround engineer. Along the way, he developed The Leadership Platform, a proven model for training managers to become sustainably better leaders. It became the basis of his leadership primer, Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guild to Building Your Leadership Platform. Jim is the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development Services.

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