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The Importance of Leadership Transparency

by | 3 minute read

Leadership transparency has also been called business’ “currency of trust.” As you know, trust is the foundation of any relationship. As transparency increases, trust increases. And the converse is also true.

Transparency starts with opening up the lines of communication and sharing. You offer and receive information and, as you do, mutual trust increases. As you are more transparent, trust grows and the strength of the relationship grows, too.

When a relationship goes bad, a decline in transparency is often the first indicator, the early warning signal. We start withholding information when our trust is low and we are pulling back from others.

Think of this in the context of your personal relationships. When you trust someone AND when you are striving to build or maintain someone’s trust in you, you share openly. When you hold back and become less transparent, it has the effect of diminishing trust.

Here is an example, something we can all relate to if we have been around teens. I ask my son, “Where are you going?” and he says, “Out.” I ask, “What are you doing?” and he says, “Nothing.” He is hardly being transparent, and my natural reaction is to trust him less, to even be suspicious.

The same is true in workplace relationships, too.     

In a rapidly changing world, leadership transparency matters. During times of turmoil, people are stressed. They want to know what is happening and how they are going to be personally impacted by these forces that are out of their control. So they want and need honest, candid, clear and detailed information from the people they look up to.   

That is situational leadership transparency or being transparent about the business and company. That matters.

But it goes beyond the situational in leadership transparency. You need to be transparent, not just in sharing company information, but in sharing a part of yourself.

Research on workplace engagement tells us the following about leadership transparency.

  • Leadership transparency fosters transparency and openness from and among others.
  • Leadership transparency is the top factor in determining employee happiness.
  • If I can believe and trust my management, I will work hard for them.” Transparency = trust = I will work hard.

Those are some compelling benefits, all resulting simply from being transparent. It starts by letting others know you and what you are all about.

The second bullet-pointed benefit was reported in a December 11, 2013 article in Forbes Magazine. It reported on a study by TINYPulse that probed the root causes of employee happiness. Noting the unexpectedly strong connection between transparency and happiness, the survey summary noted, “This finding surprised us too, with management transparency coming in at an extremely high correlation coefficient of .937 with employee happiness. The cost of improving transparency is almost zero, but requires an ongoing dialogue between management and staff.  We see an increasing number of companies using transparency to attract and retain top talent.”

The correlation between happiness and transparency has to do with clarity of expectations. It includes keeping employees posted on how you view their performance. Giving employees transparent context creates clarity. When they know what matters to you, what makes you tick, and what you expect, they are both better equipped to deliver and happier to do so.   

Simply put, we trust people who are more transparent. And we will work harder for those we trust.

Here is a three-step formula for you to use in becoming more transparent.

  1. Ask yourself: “How KNOWABLE am I?” Because before you can be known, you have to be know-able. You have to open yourself up and allow others to get close enough to see the real you (not just the title and authority and decorum). Although your job rank may be higher than others, you still need human-to-human connections to be effective.
  2. Share what matters most to you. (That may involve the extra step on getting that clarity for yourself!) Describe your values and motivations. Demonstrate openly how your values influence your decisions and day-to-day activities. Be consistent and clear about the rationale and criteria used in the choices you make.    
  3. When you make a mistake or discover a gap in your own knowledge base, put it out there. Do not miss the opportunity to transparently acknowledge your own shortcomings. Be flawed and frail at times and model strength by experiencing and overcoming weakness.

When you find yourself wanting to hold back, consider what it is you are afraid of. That little feeling of vulnerability is the strongest indicator that you have yet another opportunity to be transparent and to build trust.

Deb Calvert

Deb Calvert

Deb Calvert, “DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected” author and Top 50 Sales Influencer, is President of People First Productivity Solutions, a UC Berkeley instructor, and a former Sales/Training Director of a Fortune 500 media company. She speaks and writes about the Stop Selling & Start Leading movement and offers sales training, coaching and consulting as well as leadership development programs. She is certified as an executive and sales coach by the ICF and is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge®. Deb has worked in every sector to build leadership capacity, team effectiveness and sales productivity with a “people first” approach.