Are You Suffering From The Illusion of Transparency?

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.

6 Comments on “Are You Suffering From The Illusion of Transparency?

  1. So true! Thanks for the insight. Your three points are spot on. Maybe we should complete all our lists, no matter the topic, with “Be Authentic”.
    – Michael

    • Thanks for your comments Michael. I think “Be Authentic” should be at the top AND bottom of our lists!

      Take care,


  2. Great post, Randy! I love your three steps to greater transparency. Specificity can be threatening to leaders – how much is ”too much” transparency? Authenticity can also be threatening – leaders may ask themselves, ”I’ve been told not to share this information,” etc.

    True connection and communication happens when leaders modify conversations to fit the needs of unique players on the team. Personality comes into play, as you mention. I also think leaders just need to ask what team members would like to know – that way they can share what they\’re able to share and check for understanding.

    One additional thought – transparency doesn’t happen with a single conversation. Transparency is daily acts of open sharing and communication so that team members feel informed.



    • Excellent points Chris! Transparency in leadership is a process that occurs over time, and I think you make a valuable point by emphasizing that you need to consider the unique needs of your team members.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.


  3. Transparency. Illusions. Authenticity. Terrific thoughts. Transparency requires a high degree of trust. Which, of course, is what this blog is all about.

    We often are so busy working with seemingly less resources and less people than we had a few years before; we are often working across vast distances and using technology to connect versus in-person relationships; we are often working on the “urgent” and not the “important”. All of this contributes to an underinvestment in our relationships and not building a reservoir of trust. It’s no wonder then that you can pause and look at the situation, recognizing the deficit.

    The other thing to note is that transparency and trust are a two-way street. It’s often easy to point at the boss, the manager, the leader, the CEO…and not look the other direction as well. Both parties in the relationship must show some vulnerability in order to establish trust. A well-intentioned leader who is transparent, and communicates clearly and openly will still fail the transparency test if the team doesn’t truly buy in. If the leader is expected to be transparent, and vulnerable, then those led must also take full responsibility.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    • Hi Skip. I agree with you about the importance of each of us looking in the mirror and asking ourselves what we’re doing to build trust…it all starts with each one of us.

      Thanks for your wonderful insights. Take care.


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