Leadership Series 6: Access Denied


There are many memorable moments from the 1996 Atlanta Games that we all collectively can recall.  The following is a brief recap of one of those events memorable only to a few.

Pre-Olympic Square bombing, most of the buildings around the downtown Atlanta venues were still locked up and impenetrable by the casual Olympic fan from Texas.  Equipped only with a pocketful of low demand tickets to weightlifting, field hockey, and judo, my group’s Atlanta experience to that point had been less than Olympian.

During one of the many interludes between our three events we were traversing near one of these inaccessible buildings.

At that point we noticed this particular building was draped with an inviting banner that read, “Welcome Texans.”  A quick flash of our valid Texas Driver’s Licenses granted us access to the Gallery Furniture Welcome center for the unsuccessful Texas 2004 Olympic Bid.  More importantly we were then given coveted neck badges complete with official Atlanta 1996 Lanyards.

After enjoying complimentary fajitas and sharing a personal moment with local Houston businessman Mattress Mac, we parlayed those badges into visits to the Swedish 2004 bid room and the ESPN’s Broadcast row (Hello Chris Meyers, that was me walking by your set) .  At no point did anyone stop us from looking around as the badges and lanyards granted us access to everything in the building. It.was.awesome.

Without access to the leader, feedback never connects with plans and solutions never find their way to problems.

How accessible are you to your stakeholders?

  • Does your demeanor invite or restrict access
  • Do you have an open door policy that is blocked by your secretary and an actual closed door?
  • Do your stakeholders have the ability to actually email you directly?
  • Would any of your students think to look for you anywhere in your building other than your office?
  • Do your stakeholders think there is a passing chance they might see you at a student function?
  • Do your students react with shock and awe when they see you in a classroom or the cafeteria?

There are certain restrictions to completely unfettered access that are necessary for the organization to function, but the leader has to be mindful and create workarounds to make access for the stakeholders regardless of district size.

A principal in a school of 500 students will have to devote less time to creating opportunities for student access than a principal of a school of 2500 or more, but both of them have to be intentional in their efforts.

Granting access means you will hear about more problems, but those problems already existed.

You were just unaware.

An inaccessible leader is a flag planter with no followers.  Make yourself accessible to those you lead and serve.

Final thought

As Principal at Kempner High School in Fort Bend ISD, I had an office that had two entrances, one of which opened directly into a main hallway.  I never closed that hallway door except for private meetings. I had a handful of negative stakeholder experiences because of that easy access, but I was blessed repeatedly by impromptu student visits.