Take all the great leadership traits you've heard or read about that come to your mind. What floats to the top?

Typically we think exceptional communication skills, superb emotional intelligence, or the inspirational leader who enrolls followers to passionately pursue a vision.

But there's one trait I can bet you didn't think about. And I firmly believe this trait can be a difference maker. It's important for two reasons:

  1. It's the foundation of healthy relationships, whether in business or even at home with spouses and kids.
  2. Implementing this trait costs zero dollars!

And that is....transparency.

You see, transparency is the backbone of trust. Trust simply cannot happen without it. As a result, your people will work harder for you, respect you more, and you'll be able to solve problems much faster if you're being transparent.

The business case for transparency.

Warren Bennis, in Transparency: Creating a Culture of Candor, cites a 2005 study finding that a group of 27 U.S. companies noted as "most transparent" beat the S&P 500 by 11.3 percent.

Fortune magazine puts out their annual 100 Best Companies to Work For issue. The research behind what makes those companies get on that list is typically characterized by high levels of trust and transparency--especially employees' belief in the credibility of their leaders.

The one principle of transparency that will set your company apart.

I speak of sharing information. Information is power, and it's one of the best ways to build a sense of trust in people.

Sharing information sometimes means disclosing information that is considered sensitive or privileged, like future business plans and strategies, financial data, how your money is being spent, or the way your group activities contribute to organizational goals.

On the radical side of transparency would be Buffer: They publish pretty much everything, even salaries.

Providing your people with more complete information communicates trust and a sense of "hey, we're all in this together." Just exercise your best judgment with what can and cannot be disclosed, according to company policies and ethics.

A case study in transparency: HubSpot

HubSpot is a global digital marketing automation company, and they redefined what it means to be transparent in business. They are now being recognized as having one of the greatest company cultures.

One of the many things they do to embrace transparency is found in their public wiki, which anyone at any level inside the company's intranet can access to voice their opinion, ask questions, share concerns or ideas.

It has become a great platform for collaboration and encouraging communication between any employee and upper management, and HubSpot employees really value the accessibility of its management team. They've won awards for this.

A few years ago, HubSpot Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Dharmesh Shah published an article on their wiki called "Ask Dharmesh Anything."

And that's exactly what "HubSpotters" did -- engaging in a slew of discussions directly with their CTO about technology, strategy, product, marketing, startups, funding, or whatever.

Closing thoughts.

Transparency certainly doesn't work for every company or industry. But it is key in developing your culture in the new currency of openness and collaboration. What you share with one, you share with all. There's a sense of togetherness there. And it starts with leaders modeling the behaviors of trust and transparency.