Leadership Toolbox: the Open Door Policy

By | October 26, 2019

[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.

More leadership toolbox articles are found by searching under “Article Categories” in the drop-down menu on the right-hand side of this Webpage.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

14 thoughts on “Leadership Toolbox: the Open Door Policy

  1. Dale Paul Fox

    Just a reminder to all who read these pages that if you want to read more on any particular topic, then use the search feature. In the dropdown menu you will find ‘leadership toolbox’ ….. just click on it and all his past articles will show. I printed them out and have them handy at work for my team’s leadership. Works good to have another person’s work with you when trying to make a point.

    1. Big Al

      Hi Dale, I thought you were retired. Must have been mistaken. Good points here, of course, as you are always right on target. Keep these mini-series articles handy. Someone might ask where you got the idea.

  2. Wilson Cox

    Once again, I enjoyed your story from your time in the army. Junior leaders are like you in that they discover some of the simple was of great leadership by DOING IT. Any way, I enjoyed especially the part about when you removed the door to your office to symbolize your open door policy. Looks like it worked out well.

    1. Doc Blackshear

      Openness and honesty builds trust. That is what Gen. Satterfield is getting us to think about. I, for one, agree with him on this issue. I had a boss with an open door policy and the company did well. It did well because the managers were good people and had in place a number of leadership tools that have been laid out here in these pages. Keep up the great works here Gen. Satterfield.

      1. Wilson Cox

        Thanks Doc. Good to see you back in the comment section.

  3. Mike Baker

    Too bad so many leaders fail to use this efficient tool.

  4. Eric Coda

    A simple “open-door” policy is one of many that helps leaders. Once again, we have a simple, proven, effective ‘tool’ for leaders. If you plan to use it, then read on its advantages (many) and disadvantages (few but be aware). Good to see so many of my favorite commentators on this morning.

  5. Roger Yellowmule

    Maybe the country of Mexico and its leaders should try it. See Gen. Satterfield’s “daily favorites” on the decline of Mexico.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Mexican govt officials are caving to the drug cartels. I didn’t think this would happen anywhere in the modern world. Too bad. The biggest problem, however, in my opinion is the high demand for drugs inside the USA. This makes the govt’s response in Mexico so predictable.

    2. Tracey Brockman

      This is a wake up call to the rest of the world’s leaders. But, of course, they missed what’s happening.

      1. Janna Faulkner

        And they are neither crazy nor stupid. When the cartels tell you either release our people or we will kill your family, then the solution should be clear. Get out of Mexico NOW.

  6. Fred Weber

    Of all the time I’ve been reading on this long-lasting series (very useful, I will add), I never thought of this simple policy to suggest that it really does work. I would like to add that it’s been around since the beginning of humans; we just didn’t “see” it.

    1. Jerry C. Jones

      Good comment, Fred. I believe you! Nearly every thing we talk about in these pages have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. We just are now verbalizing it and using them to speed our way to better leadership. Thanks.

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