Opening doors for staff success

Proficient managers create access to opportunities for their employees to thrive.


Amy Smith, PhD, Concordia University, River Forest, Ill.Generally, there are two types of managers: those who open doors for their staff to advance in their careers and those who keep the doors closed, essentially keeping their people down. In some cases, managers are unaware if they are opening or closing the door; some may even believe they are opening the door when in fact they are doing the opposite.

The difference between opening and closing is crucial to your staff because although people work for a company or organization, at the end of the day they really work for a person—you.

So as a manager, are you opening doors for your staff or closing doors for development and growth? Leaders who open doors provide opportunities for advancing engineering knowledge, cultivating and maintaining industry relationships and networks, and developing confidence through increasingly challenging decisions and responsibilities.

My question to you is this: When did you open such doors for your engineering team? Make a mental list and ask yourself if those doors were beneficial to the engineers and to the company, or if they were false doors—whereby the engineers already had the skills to accomplish the tasks without having to seriously stretch their skills, build a new network, or engage in new opportunities.

Managers who open doors promote employee work and skills in formal and informal conversations in the office; they talk about their employees with clients during office visits and side conversations at conferences. Door openers give credit to their staff’s ideas and acknowledge their accomplishments in individual and team efforts. Managers who really act to gain access to opportunities for their employees make time for conversations and provide constructive feedback and guidance. They walk the talk of access by actually keeping their own doors open for others.

Door closers, on the other hand, tend to keep their relationships close and their compliments closer, hoarding information and resources. Managers who keep doors closed delegate menial and mundane work, saving the plum assignments for themselves. Door closers also tend to be too busy for staff meetings, offer very curt feedback, and are tight on budgets to support work-related staff activities in professional societies and off-site continuing education. They also take credit for the ideas or work of others, and have a knack for casting blame on others if problems arise.

So, ask yourself again, are you a door opener or a door closer? If you’re a door opener, great! Keep up the good work. If you’re a door closer, consider how making a few minor adjustments to your development style can improve the effectiveness of your direct reports by increasing their productivity and morale. Doing so will be good for your staff members’ careers and for your own. The more your team members grow, the more you grow, and the more the business grows in the end.

Smith is the department chair of the Curriculum, Language, and Literacy program at Concordia University Chicago. She has more than 12 years of experience in adult teaching and training and has published feature articles on mentoring and training in Consulting-Specifying Engineer. Smith also provides research and training services to firms in the buildings industry in a variety of career skills topics ranging from networking to public presentations.

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