If you want to be a respected leader, it's crucial that you put the practice of transparency on the highest pedestal. Why? Well, think about the opposite for a moment. Think about the last time you caught someone in the act of not being transparent--has your trust in that person ever fully recovered?

Probably not.

And a lack of trust is something the leader cannot afford. Here are five ways you can practice transparency:

1. Share information.

Broadly. Don't hoard it. The info hoarder may think he or she is retaining power, but all that power more than dissipates when the hoarding behavior is discovered, resulting in deep distrust. Beyond that, research from the BI Norwegian Business School shows that it greatly damages creativity, both on the team that could have used the withheld information to create from, and for the hoarder, who is essentially working in a vacuum.  

For certain, it takes work to share information and communicate what it means, but it's a necessary investment. I can tell you from personal experience that putting the effort in to share information, with proper context and framing, repeatedly paid dividends via a more engaged, solution-oriented organization.

Of course, sometimes there is truly sensitive information that you can't share as a leader for the discernable damage it would do, but these instances tend to be the exception.

2. Be transparent about the state of the union.

Far too often, I've seen leaders sugarcoat where the business really stood (when it was in bad straits) or, when they didn't want people to get complacent, tamp down the sheen of results.

People aren't dumb. There are plenty of everyday signs as to a business's health. Stories painting an opposite picture will immediately stand out.

There's only one way forward here. Speak the truth, deal with reality as a team, provide hope.

3. Be transparent about why you made a decision.

When it comes to explaining your decisions, don't hem and haw, don't worry about hurting feelings (but be respectful), and don't hide underlying motivations--those motivations have a way of eventually showing themselves. By the way, if you made a decision solely for a selfish reason, then you probably didn't make the best decision.

Most important, don't assume you can just make decisions in a vacuum without giving context and reasoning for them. I learned this the hard way early in my career when I was in a failing business that required a rapid turnaround. I was using the need to move fast as justification for making decisions in a vacuum and not taking time to explain anything to anyone.

I soon learned I wasn't bringing the organization along to execute and improve the quality of the very decisions I was so rapidly making.  

Again, I'm not discounting tough decisions that must be made for broader confidential reasons (like pending plant closings or staff reduction). I'm talking here about caring enough to take the time to enroll, educate, and explain.

4. Be transparent with people about where they stand.

It's never easy to tell someone something they won't enjoy hearing. But it's a core responsibility as a leader; you owe them the truth and they'll be better off for knowing the truth over the long run. It might sting in the moment, but if you communicate the message with respect and dignity, the recipient will be appreciative later in their life, even if they never show it.

Some of the strongest bonds I have with former employees are the ones in which I was transparent with them about where they really stood, which allowed them to go pursue something that better aligned with their strengths and interests.

5. Know that hidden agendas rarely remain as such.

Hidden agendas may be the easiest lack of transparency to spot, because the untruthful party still has to take action and engage in certain behaviors to progress their real agenda. We human beings tend to see through such false overtures. It's a fundamental truth that when intentions aren't pure, they're so much easier to spot than when they're pristine.

So don't play this game. One of the most toxic organizations I've ever been a part of had a leader who had nothing but hidden agendas. The funny thing is, everyone seemed to know it but him.

Nothing is more transparent than when someone's not being transparent. Practice these five methods to have people reading the right things about you.

Published on: Oct 24, 2018
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