Closed Door Leadership

Closed Door Leadership

Written by Alex Jimenez


Leadership.  That one word can elicit hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands of different reactions—both positive and negative.  Leaders need a broad toolkit of abilities to be successful, but the faculty that I believe stands out as one of the most critical is transparency.


We all know them—the leaders who hide behind their desks with the doors closed.  They are on conference calls all day and attend meetings because their presence is required.  They preach about open-door policies and a collaborative atmosphere, but the door remains closed and they almost never share anything that they may be exposed to or are dealing with at the management level.  They have read all the management books (or, at least they have an entire bookshelf of them in their office), but they never really do anything with the content.  Their staff have no idea what is going on outside of the day-today tasks, and they are bound by the silos that have been constructed around them.  Team-wide communications are limited to high-level data points with no context, and bad news seems to consistently be shocking and unexpected (and probably more frequent than truly good news).  This closed-door management culture is the exact opposite of what the most successful organizations strive toward.  There is nothing heroic in hiding things from your team—quite the opposite.  It is selfish and usually only benefits the few, and not for long.


Organizations that share as much as possible, including financial performance, risks to the organization, the “why” behind decision making and strategic direction will consistently deliver both a high return for the business and the staff.  Being as transparent as possible drives team performance, task-level ownership, accountability, and improves communication and trust.  In addition, you create a culture in which bad surprises are reduced to a minimum or eliminated.  Leaders who treat their employees like adults will be rewarded with a culture of ownership and buy-in.


Implementing a transparent culture is not as simple as sharing everything with everybody.  There still needs to be a line drawn with certain HR issues, for example.  Organizational transparency takes courage at the leadership level.  Empowering the people on your team will undoubtedly lead to the tough questions being asked, and as leaders it is your job to be prepared to answer those questions as candidly and directly as possible.  You will need to establish communication mechanisms, forums for feedback and action tracking.  You will need to invest time in your managers and arm them with the information they need to be successful implementers of a transparent culture.  You will need to trust that your staff will not react poorly to more information.  You will need to be a unifying, encouraging support to your team when you share information that could be demotivating. Lead them through the tough times.  Once you have begun down this path of transparency, you must be 150% committed to seeing it through, because pulling it away will be even worse than never implementing it in the first place.


The quote below really summarized our thinking on a transparent culture –


“When you turn over rocks and look at all of the squiggly things, you can either put the rock back down or you can say it is my job to turn over rocks and look at the squiggly things”.


I would take this one step further.  As leaders, it is our job to turn the rock over and look at the squiggly things as a team whenever possible. If you have surrounded yourself with great people, why would you keep them under a rock like the squiggly things?