Managers with open doors can have closed doors

Many managers keep loaded guns under their desks. When one of their employees comes to them with a problem or a big mistake, they're shot between the eyes. The rest of the troops hear about the blast and see the hole. Sometimes the victim's scar never heals. You can bet the rest keep their mouths shut.

Shooting the messenger has never been a way to encourage bottom-up communication. "I have an open-door policy with my employees," one manager claims. But his employee will add: "As long as the news is good. If I have a problem, he's the last person I'd tell." While the manager's door is open, his mind is closed.

Many managers are unaware of the impact their behavior has on their employees. Tone of voice, facial expressions and word choice are studied and discussed a great deal among employees. In order to survive and succeed, employees will adjust their approach to fit their boss' style.

Sometimes, the only way to gauge your own style is to watch how your employees have learned to respond to you. Here are some typical employee behaviors that might signal a need to change your approach to problems and employee mistakes.

·        Do you hesitate to give an employee another chance on a substantial project if he or she messed up once before? If you discover a weakness or lack of experience in your subordinate, you need to look for experience that will force that area to grow. Hold your employee's hand until he or she has the confidence and ability to succeed alone.

·        Have you tied a can to someone's tail? If a past mistake or poor image has been overcome by an employee, it's unfair to remind others of the incident, block promotions or limit assignments. Even criminals can only be tried once for a crime.

·        When a mistake is made, do you roll up your sleeves and fix it for your employee? Not only will your employee resent losing your confidence and control of his or her own problem, he or she will probably lose initiative and motivation over the long run.

·        Do you react to bad news by shouting, "I knew this would happen!" or worse? Employees who are punished like children begin to sneak, lie and cheat to avoid an emotional spanking.

·        When an employee comes to you with a problem, do you make sure they leave with a detailed assignment from you on how to fix it? In some high-risk cases this may be necessary, but in most situations a questioning approach is better. Asking questions like, "What have you done to fix it so far?" and "What will you do next?" keeps the accountability, responsibility and control where it belongs. It's also the way to teach your employee how to avoid the mistake in the future.

·        When problems are brought to your attention, are they near crisis proportion? If your employees only come to you as a last resort, they're afraid to come sooner. Your management style may be insulating you from your organization.

·        When your employees make mistakes, do they blame others or make excuses throughout your discussion about it? If most of your employees are used to "covering their backside," they're used to you kicking it. It could be a signal that you tend to blame them rather than help your employees figure out a way to solve their problems.

·        Do you hear about problems in your area from someone outside it? If your employees have covered up something or avoided telling you about a problem, you will be embarrassed and isolated. The only way to stay effective is by rewarding them with support and guidance, not guilt and punishment.

·        Do your employees come to you frequently to "touch base" before they make simple or routine decisions? Your control is too tight, and their fear of making a mistake is too high. Wean them by telling them to make the decision first and then let you know what they did. If you don't second-guess their decisions, they'll soon become much more independent.

·        Are your employees reluctant to accept new projects that are politically sensitive or carry high visibility? The entire organization may be guilty of demanding success and punishing failure. Visible recognition for risk-taking tells the rest of the employees that creativity and initiative are prized and rewarded.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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