How to be Open Without Shutting People Down

Openness is so important to leadership that maybe we should stop calling people “leaders” and rename the most effective ones “openers.” Leaders open up or shut down opportunities in direct proportion to how open or shut down they are to themselves and to others.

We worked with a senior executive a while ago who sincerely believed in openness. What he didn’t realize was that his way of being direct and frank with people was actually shutting them down. He believed in openness and authenticity, but his approach was creating the opposite effect. It was a total mystery to him. He even rationalized it by saying that other people in his organization just weren’t as open. What was missing was openness to himself. He could be open and direct when it came to driving people to results or expressing criticism, but he could not be open about his fears, limitations, inadequacies, or vulnerabilities. As a result, his embodiment of “openness” was very limited.

Once he gained the inner strength and confidence to be more open about his real concerns and feelings, it came as a great surprise to him how other people opened up to him. He told me, “It was startling to me that people opened up and supported me as I opened up and shared my vulnerabilities. I built my career by being invulnerable. I was very open about the work, but very fearful about revealing myself. I didn’t understand that I was distancing people in the process. I now understand that more openness in the organization begins with me.”

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