Conclusion Leading Door to Door

The circle of open-door leadership is extended when the people you've opened doors for start opening doors for others. The sweetest reward is having a door opened for you by someone who's become a leader with your help.

One of my favorite career moments happened 20 years after I worked with Dick Thompson, the Vietnam vet I mentioned in the last chapter. Through the encouragement and support of open-door leaders like Dick, I started my own leadership-development company—Giant Leap Consulting. A few years ago, one of my clients wanted to conduct a workshop on how to lead during stressful times. Guess who I called? Yep, Dick Thompson.

Two decades after learning about leadership from Dick, I hired him to conduct a stress-management workshop for a group of leaders I was leading. I opened a door for a guy who had opened so many doors for me. And why not? I knew him well and had confidence in the job he'd do. He was suited for the opportunity (he had done two stressful
tours in Vietnam and written a book, The Stress Effect). It was easy to envision how thrilled the participants would be to hear from a true hero, and I looked forward to giving him all the support he needed to be successful.

My favorite part of this moment was being able to honor Dick by introducing him to the group, and telling everyone, including Dick, how much I cared about him and how grateful I was to have learned from someone who genuinely cared about me. I was a better professional and a better human being for having worked with him.

The legacy of open-door leadership is more open-door leadership. When leaders open doors of opportunity for others, they make lasting impacts on people who can then open doors of opportunity for others. Leadership isn't some complex and abstract concept. It's a simple tradition. Leadership is a set of practices and ideals that we pass from one person to another, across organizations and generations. It's a tradition that makes people's lives better by creating opportunities for them to thrive, achieve, and lead. We all share in the rich tradition of leadership when our efforts stay directed on one thing: continually opening doors for each other.

A Final Action

Taking into account all you've read about open-door leadership, what specifi actions will you take to be an open-door leader? Write your answer on a piece of paper and make sure to include a timeline to hold your feet to the fi e.


I recently heard a story that wonderfully expresses what has come into sharp focus for me since I first wrote Leaders Open Doors. I heard the story along with 300 other captivated employees at the University of Michigan. I was giving a keynote talk on open-door leadership, when I asked for a volunteer to share a story about a leader who had opened a door of opportunity for him. Clarence, a burly linebacker of a man, offered to tell his story.

Ten years earlier Clarence had been the manager of a 200-room hotel. He and his wife were invited to an association meeting where, by chance, he was seated next to the general manager of a large convention hotel. The two hit it off, bonding over stories and frustrations. At the end of the evening, Clarence decided to give the GM his business card, hoping that something might come of it.

The GM, apparently, saw potential in him—the chance dinner encounter led to the GM giving Clarence the opportunity to manage a 1,000-room hotel.

The fact that a leader would take such a big risk on someone he had just met is only half of the story. The most powerful part came when I asked Clarence what that
leader meant to him. Clarence, who until this point had been quite expressive, couldn't say a thing. As the seconds passed, the audience was transfixed in silence, sensing that something emotional was surfacing for Clarence. Finally, with his voice cracking and his eyes welling up, a barely audible Clarence said, “Pancreatic cancer . . . a few years later.” He had to stop to wipe his eyes.

After regaining his composure, he said, “That was over 10 years ago. I swear to you, I think of him every day. I am just grateful I got to work for someone like that.”

Since this book was first released, I have been honored to hear similar stories over and over again. The universal sentiment that people have when recalling a leader who opened doors for them is gratitude. Leaders who take an interest in our potential, help us believe in ourselves, and who take a chance on us, leave us better off then they found us. They raise our confidence, performance, and standards. Good leaders help us become better people and for that, we are profoundly grateful.

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