The Open Door


F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE – “I have an open door policy” is something that we have all heard many times from leaders at every level across the Air Force. While this is a common phrase, how often is it truly meant?

I strongly feel that leaders need to be accessible to those they lead. This can be done many ways, from visits to your work centers, presence on the job site, office calls or even something as simple of really having an open door while working in your office. Ensuring you are available is the first step to having your Airmen approach you.

Trust is also an important aspect in truly having an “Open Door” policy. Stephen R Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, stated, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Your Airmen need to trust that you will listen, trust that you will take action. Building trust is not easy and takes work on your part as a leader.

Trust leads into building the right environment that promotes improved communication and makes it easier for your Airmen to come to you with problems. Open communication is critical to building a healthy workplace environment. 

That healthy environment now allows your Airmen to approach you with their questions, issues and problems. General Colin Powell once said, “Leadership is solving problems. The day Soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

I learned the importance of creating the right environment early on in my career. I would like to relay an experience that I had as a captain where creating the right environment allowed me the opportunity to help a young Airmen.

While deployed overseas, I was serving as a flight commander covering all civil engineer activities at a base. The majority of my young Airmen were located in my escort section providing oversight of all contractor actions on the base. My superintendent and I made it a focus to visit them as much as possible, but due to the long hours they worked, when we visited it was more often than not in the field while they were conducting escort duties. For many, it was their first deployment and overall what they relayed to us was high job satisfaction and enjoyment with the deployment. From the outside, it appeared that the technical sergeant running the section was doing an excellent job of managing his resources and caring for his personnel.

About half way through the deployment, one of the young female Airmen in the section stopped by my office and asked to speak to me and the superintendent.  After some light conversation, she proceed to tell us about the on-going sexual harassment her and other females in the section we subject to on almost a daily basis by the NCOIC. What we found was the NCOIC was able to present a positive face and in the background threatened his subordinates to not bring up anything that was happening when leadership was not present. The Airman that came forward, her biggest concern was that we would not do anything once the situation came to light.

I was and am still grateful that this young Airman had trust in me and my superintendent that she would bring this to us for action. Most importantly, to maintain that trust you must act and work to solve the problem.

In this case, as soon as she left the office calls were made to the squadron commander and first sergeant. The NCOIC and other NCOs in charge of that section that stood by and allowed the harassment to happen were removed by the end of the day. We immediately begin an investigation with the end result of the allegations being confirmed and the NCOIC facing a court martial.

The purpose of the story is not to highlight the fact that the technical sergeant was court martialed but that positive work environments and trust with subordinates can empower them to use the “open door” and allow us as leaders to help with their problems.

As leaders in the Air Force, find ways to connect with your Airmen. Build trust that allows for a more open communication and positive work environment. Then next time you say that you have an “open door” policy, they know that you mean it.

FURTHER READING:

1. “52 Quotes about Trust and Leadership.” 12 Jun 2015.

2.  “Trust in the Workplace: 6 Steps to Building Trust in Employees.” David Grossman.  6 May 2019.  

3. “Creating an Open and Productive Workplace Environment.”  Brian O’Connell. 6 July 2018. 

4. “Quotations from Chairman Powell.”  Oren Harari.  1996.

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