Leadership Development: The Room with Two Doors


Let’s Make a Deal is a television game show that has been going, in various formats for over 50 years.  The most celebrated of its many hosts was the charismatic Monty Hall, with his perfect attire and dry sense of humour. One of the elements of the show was the opportunity to choose one of three doors, behind which was the grand prize. The other two doors concealing prizes of near zero value. Somehow the ingredients of the show, including a lovely co-host, captured the imagination of generations of TV audiences. A game of chance to win a big prize!

Personal or Professional Development

Imagine you are in a windowless room with just two doors, one in front of you and one behind. To get out of the room is easy, open a door and walk through.  But which door to open? Or you could just stay in the room!

Personal or professional development, whether it be concerned with leadership, relationships, family, friends, business or non-business situations, is all about choice. CHOICE. We are faced with hundreds if not thousands of choices every day, most small, a few with life changing potential. Even not making a choice is a choice! Choosing not to choose.

Now, back to the room with two doors. Opening the door in front means engaging directlyFront Back Door with whatever lies beyond; threat, fear, opportunity, an easy or difficult situation.  Choosing the Front Door does not guarantee success (surprise: there is no guarantee for success in life), but it does guarantee learning! Like it or not, the Front Door is the only path to learning, development, improvement and growth.

Leadership and learning are indispensable from each other.  ~John F. Kennedy

The door behind is what we commonly call the “Back Door”, or a way out without confronting the situation head on (what lies outside the front door). The Back Door will get you away from the situation outside of the front door, but you will have learned nothing and not developed your skills or capabilities to deal with life’s issues and challenges.

Taking the Back Door in life involves coming up with excuses that justify lack of direct engagement with issues. This choice  also retards progress or development. In business the Back Door for poor quarterly results sounds something like this: “The global economy took an unexpected turn for the worst, therefore our poor results were a result.” “This quarter’s results were the result of unexpectedly cold weather which kept shoppers away.” Etc., etc., etc.  (the fact that a few companies were able to quickly adjust their activities and make money escapes the back door types)

In leadership development the excuses sound like this: “My boss doesn’t respect my skills and never gives me developmental opportunities.” “I’m not loud or aggressive like the others so I don’t get chosen for the good work opportunities”.  Choosing the “excuses track” is safe, gives you a rational explanation for lack of progress, and puts the blame on others. Lots of excuses, few results.

Then there are those who just choose not to choose.  They stay in the same place, neither taking a risk or offering up excuses.  They are the observers of life who give little and get little. They sit in the meeting and say nothing, then head back to their office or cubicle, not interacting with anyone. The are steady, dependable, predictable and of little use during times of change (which is becoming more and more a daily fact of modern business life).

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all!  ~Helen Keller

Too often our choices in life are based on unconscious habits that promote nearly automatic responses, like when the doctor hits a certain part of your knee with the rubber mallet and your leg automatically straightens. A reflex reaction.  Most times when confronted with a Front Door or Back Door opportunity, we don’t think, we just react out of habit.  If you find that excuses rule your life more than results, then it is time to make a new deal:

Stop….Think …. Choose

John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

email: john@johnrchildress.com

PS: John also writes thriller novels

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
This entry was posted in Human Psychology, leadership, Life Skills, Personal Development, Self-improvement and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Leadership Development: The Room with Two Doors

  1. Brent Hedden says:

    Great example John! Consideration should be given however to “locked doors”. Many of us have multiple doors to choose from but many of them are locked. Often times, the hard part is not only finding the correct key to unlock the door but being allowed access to the other side one you do open it. Being a pioneer of culture, you are fully aware of the many obstacles that keep us from passing through the doors of opportunity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s