The Four Hallmarks of Open-Door Leadership Revisited
Bob Carr, the founder of Executive Adventure, is a good example of an open-door leader. The approach he used in helping me grow professionally illustrates the four skills that a leader needs to open doors of opportunity. These skills were introduced in chapter 1, but it is worth revisiting them to reinforce how essential they are to open-door leadership. Let's briefly walk through each skill, using Bob's approach in opening this door for me as an example.
• Knowing your employees: Even when I was hired on as a salesperson, Bob knew that my aspiration was to facilitate team-building programs. He knew that for me to grow and progress, he would have to create a path out of my entry-level sales role and into the role that I desired. Knowing your employees' ambitions and where they hope to end up will ensure that you fit them for the right opportunity.
Matching suitedness: After I proved to Bob, and myself, that I was capable of facilitating more consequential programs, he saw the connection between my skills and capabilities and the outcomes our client (Ford) was trying to achieve. He knew that I was well suited to lead the job. Open-door leaders match a
person's skills (or lack thereof ) with the opportunities that can make them stronger. As will be explained later, even a person's prior failure can be an indicator that they are well suited for an opportunity.
• Envisioning desired results: Bob knew that if he gave me a smaller and less-consequential proving ground (by leading smaller nonprofi programs), my skills would become sharper and I would eventually add more value to our company and the clients we served. He had spent enough quality-development time with me to have a clear vision of the professional I was capable of becoming. Every assignment was a step down the path of helping me live into that vision.
• Providing ongoing support: Bob had a stake in supporting and promoting my success every step of the way. He actively coached me. He shared his favorite facilitator questions. He gave me feedback about my performance after soliciting my own. He
and I attended client meetings together. His support helped me grow, and my growth benefitted both
the company and me. It's not enough to provide a person with an opportunity. You have to support them as they pursue the opportunity too.
For me, Bob was an open-door leader. When I look back on my career, I can connect the dots between my career as a management consultant today and the opportunities that Bob Carr gave me early on. While I may have been “a kid with promise,” the promise would have gone unfulfilled if Bob had not given me small and large opportunity proving grounds. The end result for me is deep gratitude. By opening a door to a proving ground, the open-door leader gains deep loyalty. It makes sense. After experiencing the proving ground, how could you not be grateful to the leader who gave you the access? How could you not be grateful to the leader who gave you your first shot?
Give Me a Break!
Creating other leaders is an essential responsibility of leadership. As a practical reality, the only way to do that is to give others a chance to lead. In other words, you've got to give people a break. People want, and need, opportunities to break away from the past, break free of their routines, break away from the herd, and break into the place that you've already reached.
There's a very strong connection between giving people a break and your legacy as a leader. Consider this list of famous comedians and try to figure out what they all have in common: David Letterman, Jay Leno, Tim Allen, Bill Maher, Rosanne Barr, Joan Rivers, Drew Carey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Jerry Seinfeld. Did you get what—or more accurately who—they have in common?
The answer is Johnny Carson.
During Johnny's reign as the host of The Tonight Show, the goal of any up-and-coming comedian was to win Johnny's approval. If he liked your routine, he'd wink and give you the okay sign. If he really liked your act, he'd call
you over to sit next to him for some banter. If you “killed” on The Tonight Show, your success was virtually assured, which is why comedians were so eager for the chance to prove themselves on Johnny's show. Johnny had an eye for comedic talent. He could spot the diamond in the rough, and he genuinely enjoyed giving budding comics their big break. Johnny opened doors for many comedians we continue to enjoy today. Johnny Carson was an open-door leader.
When you give someone a chance to prove herself, you validate that she is someone worth taking a chance on. Even if she fails, she will learn, grow, and progress in the process. That growth, whether the result of success or failure, will make her more likely to succeed in the future. Thus, as a leader, your job is to keep providing proving-ground opportunities, because that's where the growth happens.
Open-Door Actions and Reflections
Think about the people you're currently leading or infl
at work and then respond to these questions and statements:
1. How could you use your influence to create opportunities for them? Is there someone right now who could use a “break”?
2. Is there someone who has been asking for a chance to take on greater challenges or responsibilities? How could you make that happen?
What are some smaller opportunities you could offer as preparation for bigger ones? What proving-ground doors could you open right now?
3. Next, look back over the course of your career. List some people who “gave you a shot.”
• Were there some smaller opportunities that they gave you that led to bigger ones?
• What doors opened for you because of the interest they took in you?
• What reflections and insights do you have from these leaders? Are they positive or negative?
4. Drawing on the example you just listed, create a concentric opportunity map like the one below. Write the small opportunities that you received in the smallest circle of the map and then larger ones leading up to the biggest opportunity.
5. Now think about someone you're currently leading. Start with the big opportunity you'd like to create for them. Work your way through the map below. What smaller opportunity could you create in the very near future for that person?
Review the four skills required of an open-door leader. What actions could you take to enhance your use of them? What actions can you take, for example, to better get to know the career aspirations of your direct reports?