Transparency is another essential component of authentic leadership. A leader doesn't need to share details about his personal life, or verbalize every thought that pops into his head to be transparent. It's more about leading by example in order to promote the free flow of information, ideas and expression in the workplace.
That's why I put a couch in my office. I wanted to send the message that all comers are welcome in my office anytime -- that they can be comfortable and discuss their role, the company in general, or whatever else is on their minds.
But I've had the couch for two months and nobody has sat on it yet (with the exception of one colleague who was recently suffering from a migraine!). Colleagues come into my office every day, but they sit in chairs. I haven't had any of the long conversations that I thought my couch would invite. Yet, I think the couch has already served its purpose and reinforced our already good workplace culture.
That couch is merely a symbol of transparency. People see it through the open door and know they could come in, and that's enough. There's a trust there--that I will be forthcoming with relevant information when necessary, and that others are encouraged to do the same.
This situation plays out in the business world all the time. I have a friend named Rob who lived through a merger at work and saw the importance of transparency first hand. Prior to the merger, his boss -- the CEO -- had an open door policy. He held town hall meetings to relay important (yet high-level) information to all employees; management meetings for the flow of more refined information; and director meetings where company strategy was discussed. There was transparency at every level on a need-to-know basis, so everyone felt knowledgeable and informed, and understood exactly how their roles impacted the company.
Post-merger, Rob's boss was replaced. The new boss's door was closed. Other directors closed their doors. Employees gathered in the break room to speculate about what was going on behind the doors. Managers were speculating, too, because the management meeting had been discontinued.
The image that comes to mind for me is an open office door with the sun beaming through the window; a comfy couch visible to passers-by; a smiling boss inviting you to come inside. All of a sudden, the door closes. Darkness sets in. The wind starts to howl. Vines start to creep over the closed door. A raven roosts on the doorknob and squawks, "Nevermore." Long story short, the lack of transparency destroyed the company.
I should note that Rob's original boss in my example was not what is traditionally thought of as a people person, but he was aware of the importance of transparency all the same. Being transparent does not require socializing or being overly personal or talkative. It's more about creating a safe environment for the flow of information, and then allowing that flow to happen. A smile, an open door or a couch are all good for this purpose.