We have now shared a few viewpoints on leadership and management regarding how both skillsets are needed and overlap in individuals and organizations. Amir shared his perspective on turning on the leadership switch, a piece that highlighted how managers can be leaders with the appropriate mindset. Dwayne wrote about how trust is a key aspect to leadership and steps that can be taken to build trust.

Another key aspect in developing strong, lasting leadership is the concept of transparency. So, why talk about transparency now? Well, first, it is built on a foundation of trust. If you truly trust those you work with, you will not be afraid to share information with them. Nor will you assume that they will act in a negative manner with that information. Second, developing a safe environment for sharing information in a transparent manner means that you have put in the foundational work to develop a team or corporate culture of acceptance and empowerment. Third, and in my opinion most importantly, transparency requires a level of vulnerability that separates efficient managers from empowering leaders.

Why is creating transparency a lot more difficult than it looks?

1.     It goes against many corporate cultures. Most corporate cultures stand on hierarchy, delegation of duties, and the concept of “needing to know.” With role- and title-based knowledge firmly in place at many organizations, it can feel almost traitorous for someone to share information that they have. Additionally, in some organizations sharing information could be grounds for punishment.

2.     It requires giving up power. The adage of knowledge is power lives on in many people. Knowing something that others do not can give a sense of superiority that some people relish. Giving up that power will be difficult for some. There is also some power that is lost in not controlling how the message is shared and communicated.

3.     It is perceived as risky. Keeping information in a small group may ensure that context is not lost and only those “in the know” have the information. Leaders may believe that they are protecting their organization or their teams by withholding this information. They may even fear how team members would react with information that they may not be ready for.

As with any change, there is a lot of work that needs to happen to properly achieve the goals for which you are striving. There are, however, a few things that can help improve transparency in the near-term.

How can you promote transparency?

1.     Trust in your recruiting process. As polarizing as he was, Steve Jobs had a great quote on hiring and recruiting – “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” If you trust in your recruiting and hiring processes and teams, there shouldn’t be a fear in sharing information with team members. The associated risk with sharing information would be reduced because those hired into the business match a value set to work towards improving the organization.

2.     Understand to empower employees means to share information with them. Withholding information creates classes of haves and have nots. While titles and hierarchy naturally create strata within an organization, lack of information sharing can leave people feeling like they are not trusted, respected, or important to the organization. Sharing information and showing that team members are valuable can improve morale, increase performance, and decrease turnover over time.

3.     Get ahead of the message and information. Transparency prevents the spread of rumors and speculation. It also allows leadership to control the implications of the information. Most organizations will openly and quickly share good news; most do not share bad news as openly. By sharing difficult information openly, leaders can build camaraderie and, by identifying improvement opportunities, may find team members willing to step in and help. While some leaders feel like sugar coating information protects their teams, it actually harms them in the long run because it is harder to work together to quickly address and rectify challenges.

I imagine that everyone can look back at their careers and find instances where they appreciated information was shared with them and instances where they wish the had been told something sooner. Consider how you felt when information was not shared. Were you betrayed? Bewildered? Panicked?

Speaking for myself, in those situations, I have felt demotivated and unappreciated. Now consider when someone above you shared information with you that perhaps wasn’t ready for mass consumption. Those are the leaders that I have been the most loyal to and those are the situations in which I have worked the hardest.

What are your experiences with transparency? How have you felt and how can you build it within your organization?