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People and LeadershipShort Read

Army Leaders: Your Open Door Opens Doors

The British Army of 2023 faces a wide array of challenges.  Fortunately for the organisation, amongst the turbulence, there exists a remarkable group of individuals who are dispersed throughout the organisation yet interconnected by an unspoken mutual purpose: an unrelenting pursuit of a better Army.  There are so many quality leaders out there who are overlooked for promotions, decorations, citations, Commanders’ Coins, and so on.  Many don’t get the professional acknowledgement or credit they deserve.  And yet they keep going – because it isn’t about those things.  They care about their people and want the best for them, anything else is a bonus.

Not enough is said for this kind of leader.  So what follows is a love letter to those of you out there fighting the good fight, to those of you who see leadership for what it is; human connection, visionary thinking, and influential behaviours.  I’m going to do so by inviting you all to explore the profound impact of a seemingly simple practice – the open door policy. 

The Power of an Open Door Policy

In the realm of positional leadership, few things yield more potential than a genuine open door policy.  When soldiers witness firsthand the lengths you go to for their professional or personal successes, they are aware of your efforts.  They can feel it at their very core.  They can sense the genuine compassion emanating from your actions and behaviours, and it becomes a beacon of hope in a fast-paced army increasingly filled with sustained tempo, trawls, taskings, change, and uncertainty.  A simple, zero cost, welcoming gesture that allows others into your workspace symbolises the inclusivity, accessibility, trust, and genuine interest in those under your charge.  And when you commit to maintaining that open door policy, you offer an invitation to your soldiers, welcoming them to share their successes, struggles, and vulnerabilities with you.  They know that no matter the burden or worries that may hinder them, an open doorway between them and you acts as a portal to sharing, understanding, and a listening ear. 

They know they can find solace, guidance, and support in this metaphorically hallowed sanctity.  Because of this, they know you. 

And you know them.

As you witness them approaching that open doorway, you understand the significance of their actions.  It is testament to the culture you have nurtured, where impromptu visitors feel safe enough to bring their concerns and even their challenges to you.  Embracing the privilege and responsibility that comes with leadership makes your intention to be a guiding light, and hardened shield, abundantly clear.  They see that shield has taken a beating.  They know you use it to defend yourself and, especially, others.  They cast their eyes over their own shields, knowing they will use them very much like you do one day.  Quality leaders inherently grow quality leaders, after all.

Remove Barriers, Enhance Unity

Your workspace might be within the perceptibly daunting corridors of Battalion Headquarters, where, time and time again, many walk on by carrying hidden problems, angst, pursed lips, and unanswered questions.  They keep their truths to themselves.

Yet, your soldiers are emboldened to cross that threshold, to brighten your doorway, knowing they will be met with empathy and respect.  They see you switch off your monitor, visibly committing to actively listening without the distraction.  You know you could hear in equal measure, but the gesture adds power to your intent.  They are reassured that their concerns will be met with genuine attention and a commitment to finding solutions.  They experience and understand the meaning of compassion.  And they are developing their own compassion because of it.

By making yourself available during that irregular and unpredictable moment when your people need you, and going out of your way to connect with others, you forge a bond that transcends hierarchy and instils a sense of belonging and loyalty within your soldiers.  The hierarchy stuff is still there, as it must be.  But a stress-tested open door policy becomes not just a physical space but a symbol of the profound trust between leaders and the led.

Leading by Example: Crossing that Threshold

Since you understand that the responsibility of leadership falls squarely on your shoulders, you also avoid the cynicism that arises in other cases, where leaders claim their doors are always open but fail to live up to that promise.  People talk about those dissonant others, as they do you.  But you know the damage dissonance can cause.  Your soldiers recognise the alignment between your words and your behaviours.  They are further encouraged by your proactive approach of crossing that threshold yourself, actively reaching out to your people.  You leave your workspace and ask questions.  You get a feel for the energy on the shopfloor, and you lift rocks when unsure.  This amplifies the trust and credibility you have established with your team and reinforces the connections you have built over time.  You may not know it, but they are grateful. 

In return for their trust in you, you are privileged to see their true portraits.  You readily accept the responsibility of cultivating an environment where voices are heard, and needs are addressed.  And the Unit just works better.  Fewer secrets.  Fewer hidden power hierarchies.  Less contempt.  And in so doing, you forge commitment over mere compliance.  You embody the former because, of course, you desire the former.

Cultivating a Culture of Openness

An open door policy is not merely an invitation but a testament to your commitment to those who serve under your command, though it is you who serves them.  It is a powerful reminder that leadership is not solely about decision-making and giving orders, but about creating an environment where soldiers feel valued, understood, and supported.

So as soldiers brighten your doorway, perhaps for the first time, continue to embrace their presence with humility and gratitude.  For in that act, they affirm your significance and impact on their lives – they know you care about people more than results

And while the end result is ultimately unquantifiable, your behaviours are an unquestionable force-multiplier.  By embracing human connection, visionary thinking, and influential behaviours, you open doors to a future of increasing unity, resilience, performance, and shared success at Unit level.  Moreover, through your open door, a happier, healthier, committed workforce can flourish.  Individual potential becomes limitless.  And you are loved. 


Cover photo by Natalia Y. on Unsplash


Philip has an interest in the lived experience of service personnel, much of his focus is on ground level leadership, followership, retention, and personnel development. He holds a Masters in Education with a leadership and management specialisation, and an Honours Degree in History.

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