Many organizations debate how much transparency they should have with their employees. How does our business benefit from transparency? Is there such a thing as too much transparency?

Positive Examples of Transparency

There are many examples of leaders that do ‘transparency’ well. Patagonia, an outdoor apparel company, practices transparency by openly sharing its environmental and social impact.

The company shares detailed reports on its website about the environmental impact of its products and supply chain practices. This transparency has earned Patagonia a loyal customer base that values ethical and sustainable practices. Additionally, it has positioned Patagonia as a leader in corporate responsibility, attracting talent who are passionate about the company’s mission.

Negative Examples of Transparency

We can also find many examples where the wrong level of transparency has gone awry. In 2016, Yahoo said they would lay off employees and possibly sell the company before any definite decisions were made. This created a prolonged period of uncertainty and anxiety among employees, leading to a drop in morale and productivity. Many talented employees left the company, and the overall work environment deteriorated during a crucial time.

Case Study: Transition to Transparent Leadership

One CEO we coach is trying to move their organization from a former ‘dictator-style’ leadership into a more transparent and collaborative leadership culture. This led to a discussion of the challenges and benefits. While transparency is generally beneficial for fostering trust, accountability, and engagement, excessive transparency can have negative consequences.

The right transparency at the right level is key to shifting their culture. We landed on a few key areas the leadership team can begin to focus:

  • Sharing information relevant to employees’ roles and responsibilities to keep them informed without overwhelming them.
  • Consideration for the timing of disclosures to ensure that sharing information supports, rather than undermines, employee morale and productivity.
  • Maintaining confidentiality around sensitive information while being transparent about the overall vision, goals, and progress.
  • Making sure information is shared clearly and positively, so employees can understand how it impacts their work.

By balancing transparency with discretion, leaders can foster a positive and productive work environment without the potential pitfalls of excessive transparency.

Consider signing up for a leadership development program to work through transparent leadership with a professional coach.

Relationship Intelligence RQ Tool

This CEO used the Relationship Intelligence RQ tool to explore their disposition toward transparency. They were able to identify the beliefs that drive their behavior, thus keying in on the most important focus for their development in this skill.

We have found that leaders who excel in transparency possess an exceptional sense of self, consistently acting with integrity regardless of the situation. These leaders recognize that seeking help and owning their mistakes fosters a culture where others feel comfortable doing the same. They understand the value of authenticity and vulnerability, which strengthens connections and loyalty among their team and peers.

Benefits of Transparent Leadership

By displaying their fallibility, transparent leaders create an environment where team members feel encouraged to speak up about mistakes, leading to a healthier organizational culture. This openness promotes learning and growth, reducing recurring issues and enabling teams to solve problems more efficiently, positively impacting business results.

Exploring their ‘Relationship Intelligence’ provides leaders with invaluable insights to help them build stronger relationships with their team and colleagues. Strong relationships are not just beneficial, they are critical to both business and personal success!

Key Dimensions That Drive Productive Transparency

Being Authentic, Being Whole

The first dimension of Being Authentic starts with being yourself in any situation, with any person. You are unique; you are you, and you’re the only you.

So, what are your personal strengths? Think about what you bring to the table and be confident in showing others your whole self. Insecurity and doubt can cause us to act differently to fit the role we think someone is expecting us to fill.

Being your true self is important in the workplace, whether in person or virtual. Creating connections with others relies on authenticity, as people can often see through façades. Fakeness damages relationships. To be authentic with others you need to be real with yourself.

Knowing and living your core values. Values are the steering wheel that guides the ship of our lives, impacting and influencing how we eat, work, play, communicate, and live. Being connected to our values gives us a sense of fulfillment that pretending does not. Be you and this invites others to be themselves too!

Ways to Demonstrate Authenticity

  • Share Your Values – Articulate your core values and be able to share them with others when making decisions. Your behavior should consistently reflect these values. For example, a leader who values innovation might regularly highlight and reward creative solutions within their team, ensuring that their actions consistently reinforce the importance of innovation.
  • Consistent Integrity – Say what you mean and mean what you say. Words need to align with actions. Stay true to your commitments and continue to align people to your vision, even when facing challenges. For example, if a leader commits to a new strategic direction, they should continuously communicate progress, address obstacles transparently, and keep the team focused on the end goal.
  • Vulnerability & Humility – Build real human connections by sharing personal experiences and openly admitting mistakes. This fosters a trusting environment and demonstrates a genuine commitment to improvement. For example, a leader who shares a personal failure and what they learned from it can inspire their team to view mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than setbacks.
  • Engagement & Empathy – Actively listen to others. Show genuine interest in employees’ perspectives, especially when they differ from your own. Encourage open communication and seek to understand their viewpoints. For example, a leader who regularly holds town hall meetings or open forums where employees can voice concerns and suggestions demonstrates a commitment to understanding and addressing the needs of their team.

By consistently demonstrating these behaviors, leaders can foster an environment of trust, engagement, and genuine connection, which are hallmarks of authentic leadership.

Fallibility

The second dimension centers around the complexities of managing self-doubt while navigating the pressures of professional life. Acknowledging fallibility and owning weaknesses is indeed a sign of strength.

It shows self-awareness and a willingness to grow. Pretending to be stronger than one is, can lead to further stress and exacerbate imposter syndrome. Instead, embracing vulnerability can foster genuine connections with others and create a more supportive work environment.

Ways to Demonstrate Fallibility

  • Admit Mistakes Promptly: When you make a mistake, admitting it promptly is crucial. Whether it’s in a team meeting, one-on-one conversation, or through a company-wide communication, owning up to errors demonstrates humility and authenticity.
  • Share Personal Growth Stories: Share stories of your own professional or personal growth, highlighting moments of failure or setback that ultimately led to valuable learning experiences. This shows vulnerability and emphasizes that mistakes are a natural part of growth and development.
  • Seek Input and Feedback: Actively solicit feedback from team members and be open to different perspectives. This demonstrates that you don’t have all the answers. This openness fosters a culture of collaboration and encourages others to contribute ideas and solutions.
  • Create a Safe Environment for Risk-Taking: Encourage calculated risk-taking and experimentation within the team. This sends the message that failure is acceptable as long as it leads to learning and growth. You can praise innovative efforts, even if they don’t always result in success, to foster a culture of creativity and resilience.

By incorporating these approaches into your leadership style, you can effectively demonstrate fallibility in a constructive and empowering way. Thus creating a more inclusive, supportive, and resilient work environment where team members are empowered to learn, grow, and succeed together.

Openness

The last dimension is Openness. Check in with yourself, how open are you to new experiences, new people, perhaps even exploring a new mindset?

Consider something that you have been doing for a while that just isn’t getting the results you would like. What would happen if you showed up in a new way in that situation? Embracing new experiences can pull us out of “ruts” and help us learn and grow as individuals.

Ways to Demonstrate Openness

  • Be Transparent: Share information about the company’s goals, challenges, and successes with the team on a regular basis. When employees hear the good and the bad, it builds trust. They don’t have to fear that you are holding something back that could impact them in a negative way.
  • Encourage Open Dialogue: Create a culture where every team member feels safe to speak up and share their ideas without fear of judgment. Facilitate discussions, actively listen, provide, and listen to constructive feedback. This type of openness fosters innovation and collaboration.
  • Be Inclusive: Actively seek out diverse perspectives and ensure all voices are heard and considered in decision-making. When employees feel safe to speak up, experiment, and propose new solutions, it can drive the organization forward with more creative and effective approaches.

Incorporating these practices can help leaders harness the full benefits of openness, ultimately driving the success and growth of their organizations.

Reflection Questions for Developing Transparency

So, if transparency is something you’re working to develop, consider these questions:

  • When people around you require assistance, does it make you think less of them?
    • Action: Take a moment to consider what is triggering that reaction and what you might be able to do to mitigate it. Reflect on the benefits of supporting and empowering others rather than judging them.
  • Do you get hung up on perfection? Does it mean that you are always behind on your work?
    • Action: Read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. Reflect on how you can cultivate Courage, Compassion, and Connection. Set realistic goals and embrace the concept of “good enough for now” to move projects forward efficiently.
  • Are you okay with being different? If so, how can you celebrate and deepen that aspect of yourself? If not, why not?
    • Action: Brainstorm a list of three things you could do to stand out in your workplace. Celebrate your unique qualities and look for ways to highlight them positively in your work environment.
  • Do your colleagues, reports, or clients feel comfortable approaching you? Are you consistent in your response to being approached?
    • Action: Reflect on your body language whenever someone approaches you and observe the impact. Aim to be open and welcoming, ensuring consistency in your reactions to build a trustworthy and approachable presence.
  • Are you easy to read? Are there times when you feel it is better to ‘keep your cards close to your chest’? Are you aware of the impact of each posture?
    • Action: Evaluate the situations where you choose to withhold information and consider the impact on your team. Strive for a balance between necessary confidentiality and openness, being mindful of how your transparency or lack thereof affects trust and communication.

These questions and actions can help you develop greater transparency in your leadership style. And the right level of transparency in an organization leads to an empowered workforce that understands how they can contribute to the success of the company.