Open-door policy: Be willing to listen more and you'll be able to lead better

Nashville Business Journal

December 12, 2014

An open office door says you're open to communication. A closed door suggests you're closed off from the company conversation.

The question is, are you comfortable with people walking in to talk at any time? Do you need to hold "office hours"? As a leader it can be challenging to decide how to handle your open-door policy. But no matter how and when you do it, keeping your door open keeps the lines of communication open and makes you a more transparent, and therefore effective, leader.

The key is to commit to really receiving and listening to your visitors. It would be easy to stay parked behind your desk where you could see "urgent" emails popping up or paperwork that needs attention. But these distractions detract from the point of an open door in the first place. Instead, make your in-office moments matter. Turn off your phone, silence the sounds from your terminal and sit down in front of your desk to ensure an uninterrupted conversation.

Making dedicated time to listen is a key component of effective leadership. Good listeners earn respect from peers, subordinates and bosses. Plus, in most businesses the better you listen, the more you'll learn, which can help you make smarter decisions and provide the best direction for your business unit. Effective listening includes taking notes, asking questions and then drilling down and following up on key topics. Equally it requires being open to all feedback.

Keeping an open door also means you can walk out of it. It might be a new concept, but try walking the halls at your business. You never know who you will meet and what you might learn. During my regular hall walks at Tractor Supply, it was not unusual to see and touch new products, learn about a sick relative and hear a success story about customer service.

Similarly, I spent half of my workweeks in stores and distribution centers listening and learning about every aspect of the business. I absorbed interesting information about stock levels: everything from critical replenishment issues to products our team thought we should carry. I also learned about product quality, packaging, assembly instructions and missing parts, plus operating processes that could be improved and even paperwork that could be simplified or eliminated.

There is no limit to what you can learn by walking with and listening to those who are doing the work on front lines.

Listening, like any other skill, improves with time, effort and concentration. We can all develop our listening skills, and it starts with an open door. What better time than on the brink of a new year to set specific goals for becoming a better listener — and leader — in 2015?

Comments and Discussion:

"Open Door Policy"

Posted Dec 18, 2014 at 11:21 AM by Salvatore Cinquemani
Well said Joe! We were all given "2" eyes and ears and only "1" mouth for a reason. Hearing and seeing your business first hand can be priceless. Thanks for your continuing words of wisdom. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Work and Life

Posted Dec 17, 2014 at 10:34 AM by Suzanne Cassel
These words are instructive for life, as well. If people see you as an open, interested listener, I think it can only enhance their view of you as a business leader. Being a life-long learner and someone who is outwardly focused can't help but draw people towards you and your business. Everything in life is connected and instructive. I certainly want to do business with, as well as work for, people who have an interest outside themselves.

One Last Opportunity

Posted Dec 17, 2014 at 9:29 AM by John Brimm
Joe, I use these on a daily basis. They continue to enhance my ability to understand the 'pulse' of the company. One last thing that I learned from you and Mr. Hennessy... The opportunity to mentor. Some of the most important lessons that I have learned over my career happened when you would take the time to stop by and discuss business, life, and how they depend on each other. At soon to be 56, lessons learned during my time at TSC as a late 20 something to early 30 something continue to push me as a manager and corporate decision maker.

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