During turbulent times, most of us crave stability and security in the workplace. This is why good leadership, more now than ever, requires transparency.
As we head into the third year of the pandemic, people are weary of the unknown and fed up with being blindsided by surprising information. In addition to job security and job satisfaction, today’s workforce identifies good, transparent leadership as critical to their mental health and wellbeing.
So, what does transparent leadership mean?
It’s communicating openly and honestly. You’ll see transparent leadership when:
- Team members are kept informed as things develop or change
- Information is shared freely with everyone
- Open communication is encouraged
- There is healthy conflict (here’s how to build a culture of healthy conflict)
- Questions and feedback are welcomed from anyone on the team
- Leaders engage with team members directly and face-to-face frequently (rather than by email or through third parties)
Transparent leadership is good leadership because it builds trust. It can be hard to put into practice because we worry about getting it wrong and being seen as weak leaders.
As executive leadership coaches, we hear worries about this style of leadership like:
Won’t my team lose respect for me if I don’t always have the answer?
How can I learn to deliver the relevant facts? How do I judge timely versus premature?
Is there such a thing as being too transparent?
What if sharing information honestly makes people panic?
How will this help my team and me?
A corporate culture of transparency requires leaders to let go of the notion of being authoritative and powerful by holding all the knowledge and having all the answers. And, it means trusting your audience to handle knowing the information.
It requires vulnerability to be a transparent leader. It means saying things like:
It’s true; we could face layoffs if we can’t improve the bottom line together.
That’s a good question. Let me take that higher and get back to you.
I can’t answer that right now. What I can share with you currently is X, Y, Z.
None of us can answer that right now. What we do know is A, B, C and I’m committed to updating you when I know more.
There’s a lot of discussion in pop culture about authenticity and being authentic. It’s not just about food reviews, travel vloggers or social media influencers! People crave this in the workplace, too. Transparent leaders who inspire trust by being trustworthy are good communicators who understand they build strong teams by developing relationships.
Throughout the pandemic, many of us have had the opportunity to practice transparent leadership by sharing our own worries as we reassure our teams in uncertain times. Folks respond to leaders they relate to, which is what happens when you’re able to appear confident as you communicate uncertainty, share some of your own worries and rally the team to overcome challenges together.
It definitely takes skill to handle tough questions and manage information in a way that you don’t make people panic. You can learn how to be a better leader. The more you practice these skills, the more confident you will be in judging when and how to share information with your team.
Is transparency good leadership practice?
Yes! There are many benefits that we see in workplaces when leaders can be transparent:
- Employee satisfaction and retention increases. When people feel they are informed, they aren’t worrying about the unknown. When they feel heard, they are more invested in their work and loyal to their roles – investing their creative energy and time with enthusiasm.
- Teams are strengthened. When you aren’t competing to be in the inner circle or triangulating or filling in the blanks with assumptions and misinformation, there’s more time to work toward common goals. Encountering challenges isn’t as daunting because solving problems together successfully builds relationships.
- Performance improves. Having a safe space to ask questions and share ideas sharpens problem-solving abilities and creative thinking. Stronger teams that trust each other are much more efficient and better at tackling big challenges. Collaboration helps with finding business solutions.
- Employees value good leadership. When team members see a leader that is transparent (especially during tough times!), their trust and respect for that leader grow. What we see is that not only do staff feel this way, they speak highly about this leadership to other people, which promotes trust significantly.
- Creativity is critical. Creative teams are built on a foundation of trust. Why does it matter? In tough times, creativity can help organizations figure out how to survive tough times or crisis situations. As we’ve seen in the pandemic, sometimes innovation results in companies encountering even greater success in unexpected ways.
There is another benefit to transparency as good leadership practice: Less stress!
When leaders are able to admit they don’t know what they don’t know, it’s much easier than pretending to know everything and feeling like an imposter. Being able to invite ideas and leverage the skills of your team is also much more productive than trying to solve everything solo.
How committed have you been to transparent leadership? What’s the biggest barrier for you? How can you be more transparent as a leader? What are some strategies you can try with your team this month?