Transparency (Leadership Essentials)

magTransparency: I am definitely not talking about those clear things that my teachers used to project something on the blackboard when I was in school many years ago.

Transparency is really communication. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on vulnerability. That was about letting people get close and trusting those around you. It was also about acknowledging your faults along with your strengths.

Transparency is about the group or organization. Transparency builds trust with those you lead because it gives them the assurance that nothing is hidden.

I have worked for organizations where everything was shrouded in secrecy. There was the feeling of an inner circle and even an inner sanctum that very few got the privilege to experience. Leadership worked very hard to give as little information as possible to the people and sometimes even less. This was done with the philosophy of the mystique of leadership and concern that if people knew more they would use the information against leadership. Quite honestly, this is a very management vs. union mentality. Two sides that don’t trust one another and are trying to get as much over on the other as they can.

It’s unfortunate when there are two opposing sides within an organization. This is never the ideal way to move forward and be most effective. Companies that have been able to forge a good united relationship with a union are the ones that are moving forward the best and adapting the quickest.

In all organizations unity is highly important. Unity only comes from trust. Trust is built and strengthened partly through transparency.

There is such thing as over-sharing, of course. Not everyone needs to know absolutely everything, but every one needs to know enough to feel confident that leadership isn’t trying to hide anything.

This is especially true regarding the big decisions of the organization (i.e. direction, vision, personnel, etc) and finances. When people feel like things are being hidden regarding finances, mistrust forms and accusations can develop. When there is healthy transparency all of that goes away.

In my context, as a church, money is a big deal for people, and rightly so. They give expecting the money to be used wisely and for the stated purpose of the church. We hold an annual meeting for members that is required by our governance. At this meeting we supply the members with a financial report of the previous fiscal year just like most corporations do for their shareholders.

We give a basic report that gives the pertinent information in as easy to read format as possible. Transparency doesn’t feel real or sincere if it is wrapped up in complexity. Not all details are given, of course, some don’t need to be and it would just be too much to process in a sit down meeting like that. However, the information that matters is given clearly and concisely, nothing is glossed over. The good is called “good”, the not so good is called “not so good”. Then we open for questions and answer them directly and honestly.

The staff transitions I have had to walk through over the years here and elsewhere have been handled the same way. The truth is told clearly and concisely in a way that allows dignity and respect to remain even in the tougher situations and then questions are answered.

The bottom line is when we are up front and honest, it makes trust a much easier thing to build and it removes so much of the destructive that can happen in organizations when suspicion has something to grab.

Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying, “If you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

The same is true for transparency. If you have a clear standard of openness and honesty, you don’t have to worry about who knows what.

Transparency is an essential of leadership.