Transparent Leadership is a Way of Life – Not a Flavor of the Month

by  Jonena Relth  |  Self Leadership

Transparent leadership has been a life-long goal of mine, even before it was a buzzword.  Listen in to what I’ve told my employees and contractors for nearly 22 years:

How would you answer these two questions?

Q 1: Do your employees know the direction your company is heading? (Aka: should be the same trail you’re “leading” them down…)

I hope you’re sure about this one.  If not, you need to immediately revamp your personal and corporate communication!

Q 2: On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate your personal transparent leadership or that of other leaders within your company? (5 being highest)

That’s a tough question, but hopefully one that you don’t answer with, “It depends…” For sure, transparent leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a way of thinking and behaving every day with every action, reaction and transaction.  For a company’s leadership to be transparent, ALL the leaders must be humble, open, honest and forthcoming. They also need to “let them see you sweat” once in a while.

Free tip:  None of us is perfect and we can all learn from other leaders…yep, even our employees.

Being a transparent leader means allowing your employees and customers to know where you stand and where your company stands. As my mama used to say, “Honesty is the best policy.” You knew that when she said something, she meant it. There was no mistaking what she wanted done or NOT done and what the consequences would be for success or failure in following her requests. While that was my upbringing, now as a transparent leader in training, I still live by that motto.

Transparent leadership also requires that when your associates generate ideas to help your company or your customers’ businesses thrive, you give credit where the credit is due — not keep the glory for the C suite. Remember, mamas brag about their kids. They don’t take away their glory of a job well done!

Oh yeah, and if you or your employees do something that has a negative impact on a project, your customers and employees know that the buck stops with you, the leader. You’ll take the responsibility for making “it” right. That doesn’t mean that you won’t hold your employees privately accountable, but it does mean that you “NEVER throw them under the bus.”  If you’ve known our company for a while, you should know that we refer to this behavior as being “loving and kind.” It’s the only behavior we should accept – all the time!

Loving and kind doesn’t mean glossing over the tough conversations. It just means that transparent leaders need to treat everyone equally and in a manner that is respectful, yet honest. It also means delivering the message without leaving out the parts that, if delivered without taking into account their preferred communication style and feelings, could shut them down and possibly ruin relationships.

One last thought about leading with transparency: We’ve always had the “rumor mill.”  I think we would all agree that it is still alive and dangerous. However, it’s faster than a speeding bullet now because of texting, free long distance, Twitter, Facebook and all the other social media venues. We can no longer hide behind corporate newsletters “telling people what we want them to hear.” The days of brick and mortar walls are a thing of the past. If something is known by one person, you can be pretty darn sure that MANY people know it now or will “know some version” within a very few minutes. I choose to have people hear things directly from me or our company’s leaders – how about you? We all know how much communications get distorted the farther they are from the source!  (Ok, I’ll stay off the subject of the media.)

I’d really appreciate hearing how you or your organization feels about transparent leadership. Comment here or send me an email. I answer every email myself – my note of transparency here!

Jonena, TBD Consulting

Leadership Trends and Today’s Realities Blog

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What People Are Saying

Mike Henry  |  08 Mar 2013  |  Reply

I had a conversation with a friend this morning about Transparent Leadership. I think it is very difficult to judge our own transparency (although I think this friend does it pretty well). The challenge is to be open enough to understand how our people, both those who like us and those who may not, perceive us. Are we perceived as open, transparent, supportive, interrupt-able, accessible? Do we make time to understand others challenges and perspectives? Can we provide the same energy and resources for ideas that didn’t originate with us? Great post Jonena. Thanks for making us think. Mike…

Alastair Macartney  |  08 Mar 2013  |  Reply

It’s tough to be a transparent leader but then being a leader isn’t about taking the easiest solution. Authenticity is also key. Thanks for the post.

Jonena Relth  |  27 Mar 2013  |  Reply

Hi Alstair, Yep, leading is not easy – especially when you’re making a concerted effort to model a transparent leadership style that you want your company’s culture to embrace. My nature is to open and sharing so this has been less of an issue for me to practice transparent leadership.
One thing I know for sure, however, is that information is posted to the Internet in record speed – showing up on social media sites we weren’t aware of a day ago. Because of this and email, IM, Skype, etc. it’s nearly impossible to keep a secret today, so it’s better than our people hear the truth from us directly as opposed to supposition posted around the Internet. Mama used to say, “tell the truth up front…it leads to less spanking later.” Jonena

Alastair Macartney  |  27 Mar 2013  | 

Hey Jonena, that’s all very true too. Communication is becoming far more of a fundamental criteria for leaders- it was always important, but it’s now being pushed higher up the list. CEOs in particular are more focussed on external comms and more and more training courses are developing to cater for this market. Dealing with the media, with a strong focus on the digital age, will continue to drive this debate.

Jonena Relth  |  27 Mar 2013  |  Reply

Mike, Thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re probably correct that many of us don’t do a good job of judging our own leadership transparency. Sounds like we’ve just discovered another excellent reason for having a personal/business mentor and coach. We need someone to bounce ideas off and someone who will watch our actions while listening to our words. A coach or mentor will be honest with us as they want us to succeed.

Voila, sounds like the beginnings of a new blog… Jonena

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