Open door policies are great in theory, but could they actually be making you a less respected or effective leader?
The Tale Of The Open Door Fail
I used to meet with a client in his office. When we would close the door for our sessions, not one moment would go by without his team knocking on the door, interrupting the work we were doing to build his leadership qualities.
So why did his team think it was OK to interrupt his personal development time? Because he never set boundaries. His open door policy was 24/7, and he was constantly being pulled away from his priorities. If you don’t set clear boundaries as to when you are OK with being available versus when you’re not, you will constantly be pulled away from important tasks.
It’s true that as a leader, you want to be available to your team, supporting them in whatever manner they need. However, by always being available, you are hindering, not developing, your team. To be a strong leader, you must first make time for your priorities to support your company’s overall goals. As a result, you must create boundaries. As Brené Brown highlights, leaders who have boundaries are ultimately more effective and compassionate.
No Boundaries? No Trust
If you are always reacting to putting out fires and solving your team’s problems, you aren’t establishing your priorities with them. By clearly identifying what you are and are not OK with, your team is clear about when they should come to you versus trying to problem solve on their own. If you don’t establish boundaries, you are doing a disservice to both you and your team because:
• You aren’t supporting their critical thinking growth.
• You are demonstrating that you aren’t enforcing boundaries yourself and that you might expect the same from them.
• You aren’t delivering quality work.
• You are burnt out and may resent your team because they rely on you to solve their problems.
• You remain in a reactive mindset because you are saying yes to everyone.
As Dr. Henry Cloud highlights in Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge, “You get what you create and you get what you allow.” Meaning, if you talk about your boundaries, but don’t enforce them, it’s like calling wolf. Your team respects you less because you don’t do what you say you’re going to do. Your team knows that your boundaries can be broken, so they’ll break them.
While an open door policy isn’t bad, it is crucial that you set specific boundaries to be supportive and compassionate towards your team, while still completing the requirements of your role, such as strategic thinking initiatives.
When you enforce boundaries, you have better relationships, as you set aside dedicated time to support your team along with other members of your organization. This allows you to be intentional with your conversations while teaching others to be more purposeful in coming to you if they truly need your advice.
Understanding Your Boundaries
While talking about boundaries is great, how do you start to define and practice yours?
- Identify your values and priorities.
By clearly identifying your values, particularly in a challenging situation, you get clear on what you should say yes or no to. This allows you to keep your integrity in a tough situation because you are doing exactly what you have said you’re going to do.
- Recognize that you can’t be liked at all times.
You’re a leader, not a best friend, so you will disappoint people when you say no. Just know that in these moments of saying no, you’re actually supporting your team member’s growth, encouraging them to use their own skills and tools to solve a problem, and allowing them to trust their own instincts. You’re helping people refocus their attention on what matters most for both you and them.
- Set boundaries at work and home.
Your home and work life shouldn’t overly invade each other, even if your role is such that there aren’t set hours. For example, when having dinner with your family, set the boundary that you will not answer phone calls or emails. This allows you to be engaged in the moment. Hiccups happen, but don’t allow them to become the norm.
- Expect your boundaries to be violated.
People are human and they’ll make mistakes, testing your boundaries as you start to enforce them. However, it’s important to remember that a lack of preparedness on someone else’s part does not constitute an emergency on yours. This doesn’t mean you’re not compassionate toward their problem, it simply means that you’re helping them grow in understanding how to better prepare.
- Lead by example.
Having integrity means that you’re walking your talk. If you encourage your team members to have boundaries, but you don’t, they won’t feel like they really can. Look at what your actions are saying in relation to your boundaries.
Once you’re able to identify what your personal boundaries are, you’re able to define clear expectations with others. Have an open door policy, but be clear about what your personal policy is. With these well defined, you’ll build a more resourceful team, allowing you to be a more effective leader.