If you google the phrase “transparency in business” you’ll get more than 61,200,000 results. Needless to say, it’s a hot topic in leadership and business circles. The global meltdown of trust in business, government, and other institutions over the last several years has generated cries for more transparency in communications, legislation, and governance. Oddly enough, research has shown that in our attempts to be more transparent, we may actually be suffering an illusion of transparency - the belief that people are perceiving and understanding our motivations, intents, and communications more than they actually are.
Recently I had a manager ask my advice on how to be more transparent with her employees. She told me that one of her direct reports gave feedback that the manager needed to be more transparent, specifically in the area of sharing more personal information about herself. This leader believes herself to have a very transparent leadership style, but apparently it’s not coming across that way to this particular direct report. An illusion of transparency perhaps?
If you find yourself in a similar position of having received feedback that you need to be more transparent, or if you have an inkling that it’s an area in which you need to improve, I’d recommend you consider the following:
1. Be specific in your communications — Don’t take the easy way out by engaging in organizational double-speak which, unfortunately, seems to be more the norm than the exception today. Not wanting to get painted into a corner or be held to specific commitments or standards, we often obfuscate or communicate in vague generalities to appease people. In reality, your people want, need, and deserve the straight truth from you. It may be hard, difficult, or painful, but in the long run you’ll earn more trust and respect by being straight-up with your folks.
2. Understand what transparency looks like to your people — Just as with beauty, transparency is in the eye of the beholder. In the case I mentioned above, the leader believed she had a high level of transparency with her followers, but it wasn’t the case with this one particular employee. I think individual personalities play a role in how transparency is perceived. Some people who are more relationship-focused may have a greater need for personal transparency (the leader sharing more information about self) where others who are more task-focused may have a greater need for transparency of information.
3. Be authentic — It’s hard to fake transparency. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, because although you may be able to get away with it for a while, eventually the real you will come out. If you have trouble being transparent, admit it! That in and of itself will be one the greatest things you can do to increase transparency and trust with others. Let your people know it’s something you’re intentionally working on improving and ask for their support and understanding.
People want to follow leaders who are authentic, genuine, and honest, and being transparent in your actions and communications is critical to being a trusted leader, and that’s no illusion.