5 Reasons To Close Your Open Door

5 Reasons To Close Your Open Door

You love an open door. So do I. You want to be all things to all people – all of the time. But, that’s impossible. We open our office doors as a symbolic gesture saying, “I’m always here for you.” Good in theory. But, if Sam knocks in the middle of your meeting with Sally, someone loses.

I once had a boss whose open door policy (coupled with a high need for control), led to a constant line of people outside his open door, waiting for affirmation. Big time waster. Appointments would have worked better. So would empowerment (but that’s another post).

I’m over the constantly open physical door. All my eggs are in the metaphorical open door basket. Call me any time, about anything. And if I can’t get to you now, it will be very soon. If my doors shut with people inside, don’t knock unless it’s urgent. If it’s urgent, kick it in. No questions asked.

Why I Like an Open Door with Hinges

  1. When I’m With You, I’m With YOU – A closed-door meeting provides time to focus on the who and now. Disappearing distractions build deeper connection and foster creativity. Get real, speak frankly, and get it done.
  2. Power Pauses – Many leaders drop everything when their boss calls. It’s a dangerous precedent. Your team is watching you. Your actions inadvertently say, “drop everything when I call too.” A closed door may help your boss to pause. Best to have a good signaling system for such occasions.
  3. Taking It Offline – My world is filled with tough conversations. Too much crap is aired in big meetings. I’m a big fan of smaller meetings to speak (and listen to) tough truths.
  4. Time To think – I love early mornings. The door is open and the air is full of ideas. But sometimes your best thinking can’t be scheduled. Sometimes vision must come fast. When you need a minute, close your door. Taking a minute to yourself may save your team hours.
  5. Your Turn – Why do you close the door? Or are you in the open door all the time camp? Would love to discuss both sides.
Filed Under:   Authenticity & Transparency
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

Steve Borek   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

I’m for appointments and closed door meetings when it makes sense.

I’m also a fan of closing the door to provide time for reflection for myself.

letsgrowleaders   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

Steve, Thanks. Leadership is always situational… I sometimes feel guilty with the closing the door for reflection for myself… but I’ve learned that sometimest that’s vital.

Don Currier   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

Hi Karin,
I’m in the corner of “if the door is open come on in, but if it’s closed please schedule a time unless it’s urgent then feel free to knock – has worked well for me for many years. That said, a colleague recently told me that shortly after her new boss started he ceated an “open door policy” and literally had the entrance door to the Executive Offices removed. However, the door to his office is always closed and it is very difficult to even schedule an appointment to see him. You can’t make this stuff up!!!!
Always enjoy your articles, they get me thinking.

letsgrowleaders   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

Don, great to see you here. Wow! What an intriguing story.

Dave Bratcher   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

Physical doors are closed so infrequently in my environment, they are often only closed if something “bad” is being talked about. One of my biggest problems is keeping myself on track, and not distracted by the “emergencies” of the moment. I am going to try to start closing my door more often to see if it creates some space for productivity to occur. My default has always been to be available to everyone all the time, whether by phone, by email, or in person. Thanks for sharing this, and I plan to implement changes TODAY!

letsgrowleaders   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

Dave, thanks so much. I’ll be curious to see how your experiment goes.

Michelle Spear   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

Hey Karin….good points. After having an open door policy for so long, and having more and more work downloaded to me, I found myself resenting people coming by to talk. I have set new boundaries, and almost everyone (except the bosses and a few individuals) understand and respect it. I think open concept offices are dreadful and allow for no quiet, privacy or retreat. It’s much harder to implement a closed door, or at least an open-door-during-this-period-policy when there are no actual doors!

letsgrowleaders   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

Michelle, thanks for adding the boundary component…so important with our without doors.

Bill Treasurer   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

Good post Karin. I think that having an “open door policy” is a recipe for lousy leadership and is often a sign of immature leadership. In Leaders Open Doors, I highlight this fact, asking, “If your door is always open, how on earth would you effectively get any work done on behalf of the people who interrupt you?”

Dave Bratcher   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

What an awesome way to look at it Bill. This is very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

letsgrowleaders   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

Yes! Loved your book… totally agree with you.

letsgrowleaders   |   14 September 2013   |   Reply

Bill, Loved your book! All, you may enjoy my interview with Bill, here.

Bill Benoist   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

I have an interesting angle on this topic. For the past five years, my entire team has worked remotely from home, and throughout the country. For an environment such as ours, I do believe the concept of an open door policy to reach me is extremely important.

In our department, we use Cisco Jabber. If I am talking on the phone or using video or have even stepped out from my home office (the equivalent of a closed door), my presence is reflected in customizable messages on the Jabber application.

I would like to add one other comment. I’ve worked along side senior managers in office settings where they would arrive to the office and immediately close their door and you would not see it open again until they left. Sad thing, the employee manual addressed open door policy environment. Talk about mixed messages.

letsgrowleaders   |   11 September 2013   |   Reply

Bill, Thanks so much for deepening the conversation. Yes! It’s so much trickier in remote situations… where more than anything we want to be accessible. I love the idea of customizable messages.

Mark Tobin   |   12 September 2013   |   Reply

Great post Karin. I can tell how focused/productive a leader is by observing how they spend their time. I think a constantly open door is often more about the leader’s need to be liked than effective.

letsgrowleaders   |   14 September 2013   |   Reply

Mark, such an important point. Yes, I do think being constantly accessible is often driven by a need to be liked.

Mike Anderson   |   12 September 2013   |   Reply

As leaders we want our employees to have access to us, we want them to feel comfortable discussing issues and then feel the support. But dang – do you they have to ask such meaningless questions.. LOL. I think some employees have the need to connect, they really do not need your advice or even want it, they just need to see your eyes and connect to ensure everything is okay. This is probably more my fault than theirs, perhaps I have not helped them feel confident in their work. I hold weekly staff meetings, annual off site planning sessions, cell phone is always on, and my email is attached to my hip – is it really necessary to jump into my office (door is always open) and ask me a question that cannot be answered? thoughts?

letsgrowleaders   |   14 September 2013   |   Reply

Mike, wow… that’s another great angle. Thanks so much for sharing it. The need for connection is so powerful. Appearing too needy, can diminish effectiveness.

Ashutosh Kasera   |   13 September 2013   |   Reply

Open doors as well as closed doors have plus and minus both. I am the one who used both the policies, something an open door and at other times the closed door.

Closed door works best for me when I am concentrating on something very important and trying to collect my thoughts to focus on the some refined points. It helps me push out any distractions in terms of noise or even other reasons.

Open door is the best option when I am involved in some routine work that doesn’t take much of my brain. It also helps in getting some fresh air.

I believe it depends on a person as well as the behavioural approach of a person.

Thanks Karin for opening up such an important but neglected topic. :)

letsgrowleaders   |   14 September 2013   |   Reply

Ashutosh, fully agree! I use both too.

Susan Mazza   |   13 September 2013   |   Reply

Great article and so important to discuss 24/7 world. “Open door” is about being available and accessible. We all need a space and time during which it is ok to “shut the door.” The physical or symbolic gestures only help if we are able to set clear emotional boundaries for ourselves. It isn’t easy. I find it hardest with my daughter when I am working from home. Defining need is often a matter of negotiating our differing interpretations of what is important. Not unlike in the workplace we must set boundaries that allow others to feel our presence and allow us to be present to who and what is in front of us at the moment.

PS I had a summer job in a big company and was directed one day to walk the long way to the bathroom so I didn’t disturb the executives. They had open doors and an open door policy though…And they didn’t seem to care that other people had to keep doors open along the detour they created. Hmmm

letsgrowleaders   |   14 September 2013   |   Reply

Susan, you raise such great points. And yes, I find it a thousand times harder with my kids.

Mark Lockhart   |   18 September 2013   |   Reply

Karin – great post and I don’t hesitate to close my door when needed. My policy has always been “the door is open – unless it’s closed” and I appreciate co-workers stopping in. However, there are times when I have to get things done and must close my door to avoid interruptions. I inform my admin assistant what I am working on and whether or not I can be disturbed. She does a great job in “gatekeeping” and it has helped me when working on a deadline or particularly complex project. Great work!