Countless leadership books and training’s all talk about the importance of transparency and openness. But then behind the scenes, leaders are cautioned not to share too much and to keep things close to the vest. Talk about mixed messages. Many leaders fear that laying things out in the open will create panic and misunderstandings among employees. In reality, the rumor mills are stronger and faster than executives realize so employees generally already have scattered pieces of information.
The reason most leaders are not transparent is because they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative and that it will weaken their position and power. But people want to relate to their leaders. They want to know that their leaders have experienced the same problems and learn how they have overcome personal hardships.
The leader’s role in transparency and openness is to acknowledge that they are aware of the issues, put those issues into context for everyone understand, and indicate the steps they are taking to address the situation. Instead of putting their head in the sand and pretending employees don’t have some idea of what is going on, leaders get out in front, bring everyone onto the same page, and tackle the questions and concerns.
“While transparency reduces corruption, good governance goes beyond transparency in achieving openness. Openness means involving the stakeholders in decision-making process. Transparency is the right to information while openness is the right to participation.” Narendra Modi
Transparency & Openness Leadership Strategies
There are specific strategies you can take to identify yourself as a transparent and open leader. And these strategies can help you build trust between you and your employees, making for a more productive and effective working environment.
When it comes to communication, frequency is just as important as content. Obviously, the content must be honest and straightforward. But it also needs to happen on a regular basis, such as a 10-minute weekly check in. Frequency builds familiarity, comfort, and trust. These factors help everyone feel more confident in both sharing information with each other and in asking questions or raising concerns. Remember, good communication is as much (if not more) about listening as it is speaking. Make sure your communication is a two-way conversation and includes both successes and challenges.
Being transparent and open isn’t just about giving information, it is also about receiving information. You must provide frequent and genuine opportunities for others to actively engage with conversations and activities. And involvement shouldn’t be limited just to asking questions; there must be opportunities to contribute to the decision-making process as well. The more people feel involved with the process of the decisions that affect them and the company, the more they will feel you are being honest and forthcoming with them. In addition, being engaged with the here and now helps everyone understand that most challenges can’t be immediately solved, but it also allows them to see the progress that is being made.
Calling people by their name and having one to one conversations are important. The more you can cultivate professional relationships that have a tone of personal familiarity, the stronger your relationships will be. Strong relationships set the foundation for trust, and trust sets the foundation for transparency and openness.
Collaboration is a frequently overlooked strategy. Being transparent about why a collaboration needs to happen and why specific people have been selected for a particular collaborative effort, provides clarity for everyone involved. Plus, establishing an open dialogue as to the task and the available resources allows for increased productivity and faster resolutions. It is the leader who needs to establish transparency and openness in the forming of collaborations and set these factors as the expectation for how the collaboration functions.
“Speak the truth. Transparency breeds legitimacy.” John C. Maxwell
Creating a Culture of Transparency & Openness
Along with being a transparent and open leader and modeling these traits for others to follow, there are strategies you can take to help encourage employees to follow your lead. By creating a culture where transparency and openness are expected and part of the normal ways of operating, the company benefits through retaining top employees, improved efficiencies, and higher morale. Here are some strategies for creating that positive culture.
Too often when leaders provide feedback they focus on constructive criticism. To promote transparency and openness, this feedback also needs to include an aspect of coaching. Along with identifying what needs to be improved, there needs to be a discussion about how that improvement might be achieved. People need to feel that their leader support their efforts, and by asking questions designed to help employees discover their own way to the solutions, leaders establish themselves as trustworthy and reliable.
This approach of using coaching strategies to provide feedback needs to be instilled throughout the company. This includes on-boarding, employee reviews, mentoring, and all the small informal teaching that happens daily throughout all levels of the company. A culture where the expectation is that people will help guide each other increases communication and trust among everyone.
Encourage Innovation and Experimentation
Encouraging and rewarding those who offer suggestions for solving problems helps build a culture of openness. The more people feel empowered to innovate and experiment, the more engaged and motivated they will feel in supporting the company. Leaders must set the tone for people to be patient when confronted with new ideas. Most novel and innovative concepts take some explanation.
Remember too that ideas germinate from people. When people share their ideas, they are making themselves vulnerable to feedback from others. Whether the idea is accepted or not, people will not continue to share their ideas if they feel disrespected or dismissed. Leaders must set the tone of respecting both ideas and people. That comes from the example you set, the expectations you set, and from policies that reward innovation.
Enthusiasm is contagious; so is negativity. Take every opportunity to capitalize on enthusiasm, excitement, and other forms of positive energy. When people are enthusiastic, they are more likely to engage and contribute. This means they are more forthcoming in sharing information and more willing to be open to getting involved and solving problems. Actively working to spread encouragement and sincere gratitude creates an atmosphere of trust and collaboration.
Providing recognition and recognizing everyone’s strengths helps to improve enthusiasm and motivation to do more. Public recognition of strengths also helps others appreciate each other and the contributions they can bring to collaborative efforts. Everyone wants to feel that their work is worthwhile, that they’re contributing to the bigger picture, and that what they’re doing is important. It takes practice and forethought on the part of the supervisor to offer regular praise and encouragement, but the resulting positive morale it generates makes it well worth the effort.
Being polite, showing gratitude, and treating others as we would like to be treated—these are important in all situations. Ongoing verbal thanks should be used in conjunction to structured employee recognition programs. This encourages a culture of openness.
Putting It All Together
A recent survey by Ernst & Young found that less than half of global professionals trust their employer, boss, team or colleagues. A host of factors improve trust in the workplace — from diversity and inclusion to individual leaders being more transparent and open with their teams. You must intentionally work to improve honest, two-way communication, to provide opportunities for others to engage with you, to develop personal relationships, and to build collaborations.
Think about establishing a consistent policy on transparency about business development and decisions. Make sure you have regular communications to keep everyone in the loop. Encourage employees to provide honest and critical feedback in a safe environment. Adopt an open-door policy to keep communication flowing. And most importantly, remember that transparent and open leaders want to hear from and engage with their employees.
These strategies must be done consistently and on a continual basis. Being transparent and open isn’t something you do once and then its accomplished. It is something that you must work at every day. Transparency and openness must become a daily habit for them to be recognized by others and to be adopted as part of the company culture.