Breaking down barriers: Why gatekeeping hinders growth and innovation

At the heart of effective leadership lies the crucial task of dismantling barriers that hinder progress. One such barrier that often goes unnoticed but exerts a profound impact is gatekeeping. In essence, gatekeeping refers to the act of controlling access to resources, opportunities, and information. When applied in leadership, gatekeeping manifests as an inclination to retain control, limit the flow of ideas, and restrict decision-making authority to a select few. While this behaviour might arise from a desire to maintain order, it often has far-reaching negative implications.

Meeting with team around table

The definition explained

The term 'gatekeeping' originally emerged from the field of journalism and media studies, particularly in the context of news dissemination. It referred to the process by which information, news stories, or content were filtered, selected, and controlled before being presented to the public. In this context, gatekeepers were often editors, journalists, or media executives who determined which stories were deemed newsworthy and which were not.

Gatekeeping refers to the act of controlling or limiting access to something, whether it's resources, information, opportunities, or decision-making authority. In various contexts, gatekeeping involves regulating entry to a certain space, group, or domain, often with the intention of maintaining control, authority, or a particular status quo. It can manifest as a deliberate effort to restrict the flow of information, ideas, or participation, potentially hindering open communication, collaboration, and equal opportunities. When talking about leadership, gatekeeping can refer to behaviours where leaders exert control over certain aspects of a team's dynamics, which can have detrimental effects on team growth, innovation, and overall morale.

Implications in the workplace

Gatekeeping in the workplace can have several significant implications that affect not only individuals but also the overall functioning of teams and organizations. Some of the key implications include the following.

1. Limited access to opportunities

When gatekeeping occurs, certain individuals or groups may be denied access to growth opportunities, promotions, projects, or important information. This can create a sense of inequality and hinder personal and professional development.

2. Stifled innovation

Gatekeeping can suppress the free flow of ideas and creativity. When certain voices are silenced or marginalized, innovative solutions and new approaches may go unrecognized, hampering the organization's ability to adapt and innovate.

3. Decreased morale and engagement

Employees who feel that their contributions are disregarded due to gatekeeping are likely to become disengaged and demotivated. This can lead to lower morale, reduced productivity, and even increased turnover.

4. Erosion of trust

Gatekeeping can erode trust among team members and between employees and leaders. When information is selectively shared and decision-making is concentrated in the hands of a few, it can lead to suspicion and a lack of transparency.

5. Unhealthy competition

In environments where gatekeeping is prevalent, individuals might feel the need to compete for limited resources or recognition, creating a toxic competitive atmosphere instead of a collaborative one.

6. Underutilization of talent

When gatekeeping occurs, the full range of skills and talents within a team may not be leveraged effectively. This underutilization can result in missed opportunities and hinder the organization's potential for success.

7. Communication breakdown

Gatekeeping often inhibits open communication. When individuals are discouraged from sharing their ideas or concerns, effective communication channels break down, leading to misunderstandings and misalignment.

8. Ignoring diverse perspectives

Gatekeeping can lead to the exclusion of diverse perspectives, particularly those of underrepresented groups. This lack of diversity can lead to one-dimensional decision-making and hinder the organization's ability to address complex challenges.

The implications of gatekeeping in the workplace are far-reaching and can have a negative impact on team dynamics, individual growth, innovation, and overall organizational success. Recognizing and addressing gatekeeping behaviours is essential for creating an inclusive, collaborative, and thriving work environment.

Identifying gatekeeping leaders

Gatekeeping leaders often exhibit distinct behaviours and attitudes that create a barrier between them and their team members. Here are some signs to look for that might indicate a leader is practising gatekeeping.

1. Information hoarding

Leaders who withhold information, particularly important updates or decisions, from certain team members or colleagues.

2. Centralized decision-making

If a leader consistently makes decisions without seeking input or involvement from team members, it could suggest a tendency to control access to decision-making authority.

3. Exclusionary communication

Leaders who consistently communicate only with a select group of individuals and exclude others from important discussions.

4. Ignoring diverse input

If a leader consistently dismisses ideas or suggestions from team members, especially those from individuals with different perspectives, it might indicate gatekeeping behaviour.

5. Micromanaging

Leaders who closely micromanage tasks and projects without delegating responsibilities or granting autonomy might be trying to maintain strict control.

6. Favouritism

If a leader consistently favours certain team members over others in terms of opportunities, recognition, or responsibilities, it could indicate gatekeeping tendencies.

7. Resistance to change

Leaders who resist new ideas, innovations, or changes that challenge their established ways of doing things.

8. Lack of transparency

Leaders who are evasive or vague about the rationale behind decisions, especially when it affects others.

9. Unwillingness to share credit

Leaders who take credit for team achievements without acknowledging the contributions of others.

It's important to note that these signs can sometimes be indicative of other leadership styles or issues, so it's crucial to consider the broader context and gather more information before drawing conclusions.

Overcoming gatekeeping habits

Overcoming gatekeeping behaviours requires a conscious effort to shift leadership approaches toward inclusivity, collaboration, and empowerment. Here are steps that leaders can take to overcome gatekeeping.

1. Self-reflection

Begin by examining your own behaviours and motivations. Acknowledge any tendencies to control or limit access to information, opportunities, or decision-making. Understand how these behaviours might impact team dynamics and growth.

2. Raise awareness

Educate yourself and your team about the negative effects of gatekeeping on collaboration, innovation, and morale. Foster an understanding of the value of inclusive leadership and open communication.

3. Encourage open communication

Create an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, and feedback. Foster a culture of open dialogue that values diverse perspectives and encourages everyone to contribute.

4. Delegate authority

Empower team members by delegating decision-making authority and responsibilities. Give individuals the autonomy to make decisions within their areas of expertise, which encourages skill development and ownership.

5. Share information

Be transparent with information. Share updates, decisions, and relevant insights with the entire team to ensure that everyone is on the same page and can contribute effectively.

6. Actively seek input

Regularly seek input from team members and involve them in discussions and decision-making processes. Value their opinions and show that their contributions matter.

7. Seek feedback

Regularly ask for feedback from your team about your leadership style. Create a safe space for team members to express their opinions and provide constructive input.

8. Recognize and celebrate achievements

Acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of all team members. Give credit where it's due and ensure that contributions are recognized publicly.

9. Promote collaboration

Encourage collaboration among team members by creating opportunities for cross-functional projects, brainstorming sessions, and knowledge sharing.

10. Provide growth opportunities

Offer learning and development opportunities that allow team members to acquire new skills and take on new challenges. Support their professional growth and aspirations.

11. Challenge assumptions

Question your own assumptions and biases. Challenge yourself to consider perspectives that might differ from your own, and be open to adapting your approach.

12. Address concerns

If team members express concerns about gatekeeping behaviours, take their feedback seriously. Address their concerns and work together to find solutions.

13. Provide mentorship

Mentor team members to help them grow and develop their skills. Offer guidance and support to help them reach their potential.

14. Continuously learn

Stay informed about evolving leadership practices and trends. Invest in your own growth as a leader to continually improve your approach.

15. Lead by example

Demonstrate inclusive behaviour in your actions and decisions. Show your willingness to listen, learn, and collaborate with others.

By taking these steps, leaders can foster an environment that nurtures collaboration, creativity, and growth while dismantling the barriers of gatekeeping that hinder team dynamics and innovation.

Things to take-away

  • Gatekeeping refers to controlling or limiting access to resources, opportunities, information, or decision-making authority.
  • Gatekeeping can negatively affect team dynamics, growth, innovation, and overall organizational success.
  • Signs of gatekeeping leaders include information hoarding, centralized decision-making, exclusionary communication, ignoring diverse input, micromanagement, favouritism, resistance to change, lack of transparency, and unwillingness to share credit.
  • Leaders can overcome gatekeeping through self-reflection, raising awareness, encouraging open communication, seeking input and seeking feedback.
  • Overcoming gatekeeping promotes inclusive leadership, collaboration, innovation, and growth, fostering a positive work environment where all team members can thrive.

About me

Hi, I’m Lilian. I’m currently the head of a design team in a digital agency in Amsterdam and love to write about leadership and share tips based on my experience over the past couple of years.

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I decided to start this blog as a way to share my thoughts on leadership. I’m passionate about helping others learn more about leadership and how to be a good leader, so I hope this blog will be helpful to those who are looking for tips and advice on leadership.

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