[October 26, 2019] On the surface, it may appear that an open door policy for senior leaders would be universal and a commonsensical procedure to implement. The fact is that few leaders follow-through on an open door policy even when they agree with it. While there are downsides to such an approach that encourages open communication, the positives outweigh any negatives.
My first Company Command was my chance to fulfill a promise I had made to the men of my U.S. Infantry Company. Previous commanders had shutout their soldiers’ input on decisions regarding daily work around unit grounds and in the motor pool. My First Sergeant (the unit’s senior-most enlisted soldier) let me know that of all the leadership tools I had, this one policy would do wonders to restore trust in the chain of command.
It may have seemed a bit dramatic, but to demonstrate my philosophy of encouraging soldiers to speak with me, I had the door to my office removed. Some of my peer commanders told me I was sensational, too sensitive to unit personnel concerns, and it “wouldn’t work anyway.” Fortunately, my experienced First Sergeant – with a reputation for fairness despite being a hardass in my opinion – made it work.
Trust is a fundamental condition in the military where decisions involve the lives of military personnel. Any soldier could come into my office any time I was there to discuss any issue. The First Sergeant with a desk outside my office would see to it that we were not disturbed and that any privacy issues remained confidential. Trust was starting to build in my unit. The company leadership team noticed it when we deployed to the field for a tactical exercise only two months after I assumed command.
The open-door policy had some unintended benefits. Important information was reaching the lowest ranking soldiers faster and more accurately. My leaders and I would uncover rising problems faster this way. And, the men who spoke with me showed they were creative problem solvers. I would listen and try not to judge. It was amazing how much I learned with so little effort. It did take a lot of time initially, but as my time in the commander saddle increased, so did my soldiers’ trust in me and the fewer who needed to use the open door policy.
I would recommend an open door policy for any leader. Care should also be taken to ensure the policy is not abused or overused. Overall, it’s a proven tool for solving problems. I’ll keep it in my leadership toolbox.
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