Behind Closed Doors

Are you an approachable leader?  If you walked the park with Lee, it would seem like every Cast Member knew him and had no hesitation to talk to him.  He was very approachable.  Here are some tips on how to raise your “approachability quotient.”

Behind Closed Doors

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 them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
Colin Powell
 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
Bible, 1 John 5:14


My assistant came into my office and closed the door. I knew that was not a good sign. “You have a problem,” she started. “I have many problems!” I replied, but noticed that she didn’t smile at my weak humor. “People are interrupting you all the time while you are trying to work. Any Cast Member who walks by your office thinks they can just drop in and talk to you.” I listened as she continued, “From now on, I’m going to tell people they need an appointment to see you. I’ll only schedule Cast Members during certain times of the day, so you can get your work done without anyone interrupting you.”

From a time management standpoint, her plan made sense. You are more productive when you can focus on the task at hand without interruption. However, from a leadership standpoint, being approachable and accessible is far more valuable than uninterrupted paperwork time. I told her, “Thank you for being concerned about me and coming up with a solution. However, these interruptions are my work—not the paperwork. Because Cast Members can freely come to me, I have a much better sense of what is happening in the park. They bring me small problems before they become big problems. I get suggestions, compliments, and complaints directly, without any filtering. If you tell people they need appointments, many won’t come back. I’ll lose my ‘listening posts’ and very valuable information. And, I’ll gain a reputation for being unapproachable.”

While I could have eaten at my desk or with other executives in a Disney restaurant, I chose to eat in the Cast Member cafeteria. This gave me a great opportunity to informally chat with the Cast. I got to know many Cast Members, and they became comfortable being around me. They would tell me about an issue and I would update them the next time I saw them at lunch. I would also often buy the lunch of the person in line ahead of me, as a way to “surprise and delight” our Cast, as we expected them to surprise and delight our Guests. One day, I bought lunch for an International Program Cast Member. It was apparent she had no idea who I was or why in the world I would be buying her lunch. I think she thought it was a unique American custom to buy a stranger’s meal. She later found out who I was and sent me a note of thanks. She said it was her first day at Epcot and she left that lunch thinking about the wonderful place where she would be working.

Surpassing leaders need to spend the time and effort to reach all their people. Epcot had Guests or Cast Members in the park 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Many Custodial and Engineering Cast Members worked the third shift, in the middle of the night. I would show up unannounced to get to know them and see how they were doing. The usual response was, “What are you doing here?” with a quizzical look. It made for a long day afterwards, but was invaluable in building trust and open communication.

Are you approachable as a leader? Do you purposely spend time out with your people, or do you stay behind closed doors? Do your employees come to you with problems, or are you assuming everything is great because you never hear any complaints? Leaders who exceed beyond all expectations are highly approachable, trusted and connected to their organizations.

Action Points

• How frequently are you contacted with issues? If you aren’t receiving much feedback, don’t assume you have no problem.

• Is it easy for people to meet with you? If not, remove the barriers.

• Do you frequently eat lunch at your desk or do you use lunchtime as the opportunity to meet with others in your organization?

• If your organization has employees who come in earlier or later, how often do you see them?


An “early warning system” for problems, a better idea of what is truly happening at your company, great relationships with your employees


Only one more week to get the Summer Reading Discount on The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.


  1. Thanks Brad, great post and perfect timing. I am an executive at a hospital and we (Leadership) alternate through what we call “Off Shift Rounding” which is between 9pm and 5am. Wednesday night was my turn. I use this as an opportunity to speak to our associates, and allow them to ask questions about the organization. As we have been working with the DIsney Institute for over a year now, I also used this opportunity to poll our associates to see how well their leaders are doing in reinforcing safety and our purpose of making everyone feel special. Fridays are also my day to get out behind my desk, meet with my direct reports in their office and visit every associate in those departments and let them know I care about them and their contribution to the organization. I often will eat in the cafeteria and purposely get behind a guest or associate and buy their lunch for them.

  2. David–

    This is fabulous. You and your hospital are in the top 1% of leaders/organizations with this practice.

    I don’t normally watch television, but when we were taking one of my daughters to college last week, I saw Undercover Boss. I was amazed at how clueless the CEOs were about what was going on in their companies. My daughter said it was funny to see my reactions as I watched the show, as I was very animated about this “leadership malpractice.” If those leaders left their offices once in awhile, they would experience the opportunities for improvement and earn their salaries.

  3. When I was in Senior leadership, I had an “office” the only purpose of it was Friday morning open door, where staff could come talk to me at our main office. The other four days were spent in our field sitting at spare desks they had in their offices. We had an incredible culture and openness. Too many “managers” think paperwork is their job. Growing and leading people is the job. Great article.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *