Do open doors lead to passive managers?

18. November 2011 Uncategorized 2

In 2003 the Holman Christian Standard Bible was released.  It was an attempt to translate the original Greek and Hebrew in a dynamic “thought-for-thought” translation that was true to the originals.  I bought one and had brought it to work to show Jim, one of my coworkers, since we had talked about different Bible translations in the past.

We’re standing at our desks (we shared a large cube) and he’s reading some of the Psalms.  At this time, our manager walked by.  He had come back to ask a question of one of our teammates and was making his way back to the office.  He stopped for a minute and said “Hi” to Jim and I, and continued on his way.

Not very long after this I gave my notice, telling my manager that I would be leaving to go to seminary (in Louisville, KY.)  At my going away lunch, he took the opportunity to say a few things.  One of which was how he was caught off guard by Jim and I discussing the merits of a specific translation.  He wasn’t offended or mad, but rather surprised.  

After lunch I asked Jim, who had worked with our boss much longer than me, about it and he responded, “I think that was his way of saying he needed to do a better job of connecting with his employees.”

This was my first job out of college, and my boss had an “Open Door” policy.  He was more than happy to talk to you about work, assuming that you came to him (and that he wasn’t off in some meeting.  I swear I looked at his calendar and routinely saw 10 hours of meetings in an 8 hour day.)

Although he was the first manager that I worked for that described his style as “open door”, he was far from the last.

More than one manager has told me “Stop by and talk to me any time, especially if you have an issue.  But if you don’t hear from me, then it probably means you’re doing a good job.”  I find this mindset more than a little odd.  In the book, Bringing out the Best in People, the author argues that managers that help their employees achieve & excel don’t just spend time with the troublemakers.  Instead, they provide incentive and motivation for the top performers.  He will also attempt to correct and guide those employees that are below par.

However, how can a manager do that without actively being engaged with his employees?  The simple answer is, it’s not possible. Open door policies sound nice and welcoming.  However, in the end, they tend to promote a manager being passive.  What open door usually means, is “I want to have a good relationship with my employees.  I want them to feel free to come talk to me at any time about anything.”

However, what open door policies tend to devolve to, is a manager taking the attitude of “Well, if nobody is talking to me, everything must be going along smoothly and there’s no need to rock the boat.”

I firmly believe that managers that have open door policies tend to do so with good intentions.  But I also think that it’s easier for them to sit back and become passive.

You would not tell your kids “If you guys have any needs, I’m here for you just let me know what they are.”  Instead, you go to the grocery store before they come and tell you the pantry is empty.  You make meals before they’re starving.  You buy them shoes before they’re toes start poking out from the current ones.  Why?  Because as a parent, your job is to guide your kids, provide for them, and lead them where you want to go.