The success of a business depends in large part on the quality of its leaders. A strong leader has the power to motivate, energize and drive results. They know how to get the best out of their team and build trust while making a marked impact on the business. The question is, how do you define a “strong” leader? And what is it that employees look for in a leader?
While there may be no right answer to that question, per se, I’d like to explore one leadership trait in particular that holds great transformative power but is all too often overlooked: transparency.
Why does transparency matter?
Gone are the antiquated leadership styles of the past where leaders ruled with an iron fist, expected employees to do as they were told with no questions asked and communicated with their teams only on a need-to-know basis. (Sound familiar?) The workplace has evolved; employees want more. They want authentic interactions and two-way communication up and down the hierarchy. They want to understand how they fit into the bigger picture of the business. They want a satisfying work experience built on a foundation of trust with their leader. Without transparency, none of that can exist.
The question is, if transparency is such an effective leadership strategy, why isn’t it more widely used? In my experience, it really comes down to perception (and maybe a bit of ego). Many leaders believe that being transparent with employees will strip them of their authority status, and thus, their power. Not so. Transparency, as a matter of fact, offers the potential to make you a more powerful leader, not less.
Does transparency make you slightly more vulnerable? Yes—a bit, but that’s a good thing. It makes you more of a human being in the eyes of your employees—not just “the boss.” While most of us are naturally geared towards self-preservation and an appearance of strength, it’s important to note that transparency is not a sign of weakness. Just the opposite, in fact. It’s about bringing others in the loop on what’s real, authentic and true to create an environment that’s conducive to collaboration, productivity and success.
Here are six ways transparency can benefit your organization:
- Stronger team relationships: In a transparent environment, each member of the team can learn more not just about you, but about each other as well. When you all get to know one another’s strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and successes and challenges, you form chemistry and create synergies.
- Better problem solving: When you’re open with your team about the happenings in the company, they can help you overcome business barriers. Don’t problem-solve in a vacuum; more minds are better than one.
- Positive, open environment: The honest interaction between you and your team sets the tone for authentic relationships. When employees are in the know, they feel more empowered to share their own insights, ideas, concerns and more. An environment where creative suggestions are valued is one that fosters openness, acceptance and trust.
- A more engaged team: According to a Harvard Business Review survey1, 70% of respondents said they are most engaged when senior leadership continually communicates on company strategy, while another 70% cited a clear understanding of how their job contributes to the company’s strategy as a key driver. Need I say more?
- Employees who want to excel: When you openly communicate employees’ accomplishments to the team, you naturally infuse them with an energy and excitement that compels them to continue to do better. When they know what they’re doing well, where they need to improve and how they’re contributing to the bigger picture, they not only have a clearer path forward, but also gain the respect of their fellow team members in the process.
- Improved productivity: The culmination of each of the above elements will naturally give way to higher productivity with improved outputs. When you work together with your team in an open and honest way, together you will inevitably drive positive results that impact the business.
Lessons learned: It’s not cut and dry
Adopting any new leadership behavior is rarely a linear process. It takes some trial and error, honest self-reflection and a touch of humility. Throughout my own leadership journey, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, and I’ve had to course correct along the way.
Yes, you want to communicate openly and forge genuine relationships. You want to give employees information they need to do their job well (and feel good about it in the process), but there is a shutdown point. Don’t allow your team to confuse transparency with friendship. You are still in a position of authority and you are the leader. Work towards authentic relationship-building—but do so in way that allows you to maintain that level of respect.
In the end, it comes down to what works for each of us individually as leaders. I do believe that transparency is one of the most effective ways to build a culture of trust—and I will continue to employ this leadership tool on a regular basis. But as I do so, I will continue to assess what I’m doing, how I’m doing it and the impact I’m having on employees, myself and the business—and make changes as needed. Along with everything else in life, it’s a work in progress!