“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

—Theodore Roosevelt

Can we be honest?

If we asked 100 law enforcement supervisors if they had an “open-door policy,” how many are going to say no?

I feel confident damn near everyone will say, “Of course.” It’s like asking someone if they think they’re open minded. Everyone thinks they’re open minded but are they really?

Now, let’s ask all the subordinates whether they felt comfortable going to said supervisor with the open- door policy and see what they say. Will they all nod and say, “It’s so great”? No. A lot will likely say they don’t feel comfortable. I have no doubt.

Open door policies are bull and have become a watered-down statement mentioned by supervisors to make themselves seem approachable. If everyone has one, can it really be that special? No. And everyone supposedly has an open-door policy but if the employee doesn’t feel comfortable enough to come and speak with you, then who cares if the door is the size of a garage entrance?

People aren’t going to come and speak honestly with you if they feel everything they say must be filtered because they don’t trust you to react with their best interest in mind. You can’t lead by fear. I mean you can, and people do, but don’t expect people to file outside of your office to discuss issues that they are experiencing.  

When becoming more aggressive in your behavior becomes your automatic reaction, you are weakening your position as a leader, and lowering morale. If you don’t have subordinates coming to you and yet you’ve noticed them going to other supervisors, you may want to take a moment to review your approach. You need to figure out why they aren’t knocking on your door.

Some leaders may respond by saying, or at least thinking, “I’m not a therapist, I don’t want someone coming to me and talking about their problems. I’ve got enough of my own.” If you’re that supervisor, don’t expect a line at the door.

But what if one of those individuals was on the brink hurting themselves and others by committing suicide? Maybe leaders believe nothing could have been done. Or maybe they were afraid to ask for help. They didn’t want to talk about their problems, because they assumed you had plenty of your own.

The scenario above, if not suicide, happens all the time. The open-door policy often doesn’t function in the way it is meant to. If you want to keep insisting you have an open-door policy, go right ahead. But let’s consider a tactical reload on what you believe an effective communication policy with subordinates should look like.

Instead, rise from your desk, open your door, and walk out into the hallway. Get out of your office, in other words, and interacting with your people. If you don’t approach them, they’re not going to reach out to you. There is a fine line between friend and leader. You can’t be everyone’s friend, but you can be open minded and welcoming.

The truth is, today, to be effective as a supervisor means communicating, often and well, on a personal and professional level. I’ve known supervisors I wouldn’t trust to push the right floor button on an elevator. And then there are those I would call first if I got stuck on the elevator.