Be an Open Door Leader

Open Door Leader

Many leaders work hard and do all the right things to reach the top—only to make a huge mistake that undoes so much of that work. They close the door.

What does that mean? Well, a big part of achieving success in the first place is constantly learning new things and working with others to come up with bigger and better ideas. Nobody succeeds alone. Teams win, individuals lose.

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You win by opening yourself up to new ideas and working with others. On the way up, your door is always open. You’re not isolating yourself from the people and ideas around you; you’re engaging with them and finding creative ways to create value for other people, to solve problems and even, like Steve Jobs said, giving people what they didn’t know they could have.

So when you reach a position of leadership and achieve a level of success, it’s a mistake to get away from that formula that has served you so well—but many leaders do just that. They close the door. They isolate themselves from the people around them and don’t engage with their employees, customers, and partners the way they used to. They spend more time coming up with their own plans and not enough time getting feedback and collaborating with others to formulate plans together. They are suddenly “too busy” to spend time with other people.

That’s a mistake.

Being an open door leader, first off, is literal. Keep your door open. Don’t close yourself off from everyone and everything, physically separated from the world around you. Give your people the opportunity to come to you with ideas and questions. And leave an opening for yourself to go to them, too. Make time for people.

But beyond the literal meaning, being an open door leader means staying open to new ideas and thinking. None of us has all the answers. During my football career, any time that I thought I had all the answers, that was precisely when somebody would come and knock me down from my perch. So I’ve never stopped learning—from what I see, what I read, and what I hear. I seek out people who think differently from me, and encourage people to disagree. I don’t want just people who agree with me—I want people who will disagree and present different ideas, so that no matter which direction we go, we will have considered multiple options. Being an open door leader means having an open mind.

Don’t cut yourself off from the people and diverse thinking that helped you get where you are. Or you just may find that a closed door and closed mind lead downhill.

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as,, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.