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Transparency

Having worked with and for many leaders with different views about transparency I have seen a wide range of approaches. Each leader has had their own philosophy with transparency and so have their teams. Generally, most leaders are less then transparent, more opaque then anything. Now this is a generalization, however think about strategic initiatives and planning. It is rare that more than upper levels of leadership are part of that strategic planning. Likewise, it is rare that strategic initiatives are discussed outside of how they support organizational goals.

I rarely hear talk about transparency, at least with leadership. We hear often from team members and middle management that the lack of transparency frustrates them. In fact, many good employees leave because they don’t understand strategic direction or get frustrated by the lack of transparency sometimes leading to a lack of accountability within the organization.

The lack of transparency can be an issue and something ever leader has to put energy towards. Having a transparency strategy is critical. Let’s start with the reasons given or implied for a lack of transparency.

1)  Lack of confidence

Leaders feel that they need to be a pillar of strength for the team/department. Many leaders lack internal confidence, either due to past experience or part of their personality. Being transparent can be perceived to expose those weaknesses or confidence issues. To ensure that a certain image is upheld there is a lack of transparency to minimize exposure.

 

2)  Lack of direction

Strategic planning can be difficult, no matter if you are a small or large organization. Within IT and other support units the challenge can be compounded as planning needs to be coordinated with the business. In reality many leaders struggle to develop and execute long term strategic plans. In its place high level plans are communicated with broad topics and catchy buzz words. Other times strategic plans aren’t communicated at all.

 

3)  Lack of trust

Transparency creates levels of vulnerability. If you expose yourself, planning, strategic direction it creates accountability. That accountability can be used against you or others. It can also create frustration if things keep changing or accountability is not managed.

 

4)  Lack of accountability

Transparency directly creates accountability. It’s the greatest benefit of transparency as well as the biggest challenge. Many leaders operate in an opaque world to limit the amount of accountability they are held to. It is much easier to keep items close to your chest and cover up if needed then be left exposed and have to explain failures.

 

5)  Lack of respect

I have seen leaders not being transparent just because they don’t respect the opinion or experience of others. This is one of the more toxic sides of a lack of transparency and one that is the hardest to change. It can manifest as a lack of respect due to someone not having enough industry specific experience or general work experience.

How much is enough transparency?

This is a great question and one that I still don’t have the answer too. Having too much transparency can create confusion, inject undesired emotions into an organization and can be the cause of a toxic culture. Having too little creates levels of frustration which leads to talent loss and a toxic culture.

The best advice I can give is the following. The above 5 reasons for a lack of transparency is a great place to start. As leaders we have to constantly question our approach and strategies. If you are not being transparent for any of the above reasons, readjust.

1)  Lack of confidence

A leader is not the strength of the team/department. Strength comes from the team and everyone working in a positive environment. The leader’s role is to simply facilitate the positive interactions and daily activities of the team. Have confidence not in yourself but that of the team. Its ok not to know the answer, it is wonderful to invite the team to participate and be part of the discussion if at all possible.

 

2)  Lack of direction

This one is easy, simply remember: Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers. We simply need to point the team in the correct direction and row together. It is perfectly fine to Crawl before you Fly. Having a team crawl together can be a huge benefit and build a positive culture.

 

3)  Lack of trust

This can be a systemic virus within an organization. Trust is the single most important thing to have within any organization. It is imperative that you trust your teams and cross functional partners. Don’t be afraid to expose weaknesses and even ask for help. It helps develop strong long lasting partnerships at all levels. If anyone would use that against you try to use it as a coaching opportunity. If the organization doesn’t deal with someone that manipulates trust, it is time to leave.

 

4)  Lack of accountability

I love to ask leaders how they are accountable to their teams. Usually I am met with blank faces or standard lines like I improve productivity, happiness, etc. It is important that we as leaders hold ourselves accountable to our teams and ask for their help with that accountability. If they require strategic direction and planning figure out how much you can provide. Then setup regular meetings with your reports and ask how you are doing. It is important that we are transparent and through that drive accountability.

 

5)  Lack of respect

This is a killer. If you are in an organization that lacks respect it can be extremely difficult. They are very little strategies to successful deal with a lack of respect. The best advice I can give if you are in that type of environment is leave. If you or anyone in your department harbor respect issues a dramatic change is needed ASAP. Remember even the fresh college or high school grad can have inspirational ideas. In fact, it is a vital tool to have someone outside of the process in discussions. A fresh face and perspective can change worlds.

As a final thought I will provide some of the pitfalls of transparency I have encountered. I personally feel that the most transparency is always the best. However, there are times transparency is absolutely not the best approach. For example, if the organization is upset at the performance of the department or emotionally charged decisions or feedback are driving strategy it is best to temper that. A good strategy would be to apply a little steam to that transparency and smooth out the edges of the feedback or decisions. The goal is to keep a positive spin on things while not avoiding or covering up the reasons. That is the important point. Have frank open discussions about what is going on, it will help everyone through the bumps.

Transparency levels is something that is unique to the leader and organization. Something that works for one organization or team won’t work for others. However, our goal as leaders is try to be as transparent as possible to keep teams aligned and feeling part of the process. It creates a positive culture and happy employees.

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