6 Ways to Build Transparent Leaders

Think about the people you admire and respect. Chances are they are genuine, authentic, and easy to connect with. They aren’t interested in making themselves look better than you, but instead share openly what is going on in their lives, and they own up to their mistakes. In a word, they are transparent.  

As humans, we gravitate towards transparency because it feels safe and secure. When other people are transparent it provides space for us to be ourselves too. In business, this creates the best environment for success. But what is it, how do you get more of it and why does this matter? Let’s take a closer look at 7 ways to build transparent leaders, and why it matters.  

What is transparency? 

To understand what transparency is, we must first understand what it is not. Transparency is not oversharing personal or confidential information. It’s not a workplace confessional. Instead, transparency is genuine honesty. It is about sharing the right information with the right people at the right times so you can make clear best decisions together. Transparency also involves being willing to be human in front of your coworkers. 

Why does it matter? 

People respect honesty far more than perfection. We instinctively trust leaders willing to show their imperfections and failures. A company culture where it’s okay to experiment, fail, and try again allows innovation and opens up potential. Transparency leads to trust within a team, increased productivity and retention, and promotes genuine relationships at work. 

When done right, nothing else becomes as important as transparency in leadership. So how do you make sure you’re taking steps toward true transparency? Here are 7 ways to build transparent leaders. 

1) Stop Making Decisions Behind a Door 

The last thing people want is to be blindsided by a decision made in a closed boardroom meeting after hours. Instead, when you involve people in decisions, they are more engaged and committed. Making decisions behind closed doors alienates your team and fosters distrust and resentment. While it’s not always possible to involve everyone, use judgment and err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion. 

2) Set Clear Expectations

According to Gallup’s research, only half of American workers feel like they truly understand what their employer wants from them. When they aren’t sure what the target is, they spend a lot of time missing the mark. They focus on the wrong metrics or simply waste time doing unnecessary tasks. The result of unclear expectations will always be tense, disengaged employees.  Transparent leaders set clear performance expectations for everyone, including themselves. 

3) Share Your Failures

Transparency goes hand-in-hand with vulnerability and humility. Be honest when a business decision didn’t turn out as planned, share what you learned and what you’d like to do differently in the future. Nothing encourages a culture of transparency more than when the boss is willing to admit they made a mistake. 

4) Trust Your People 

A recent survey by Ernst & Young found that less than half of global professionals trust their employer, boss, team, or colleagues. Trust and transparency go hand in hand. They are both fundamental to business success. If you don’t trust your people, take a hard look as to why you have them on your team in the first place. The less trust and respect in your organization, the more transparency you need.  The more transparency you have, the more people will trust and respect you.

5) Ask for Feedback

Your people feel valued and heard when you ask for feedback. View every team member as a source of new ideas or hidden potential. Actively asking for feedback on new products or old processes taps into a pool of creative potential that you already have at your fingertips. 

6) Support Experimentation.

Transparent leaders allow team members the space, autonomy, and feedback they need to experience new ideas without fear of failure. When failure is encouraged and not avoided, people are less guarded, more engaged, and empowered to stretch themselves and try new things. This also demonstrates your trust in your team allows your team to trust in their leader.

Examples of Transparency: 

Unfortunately, transparency isn’t automatic for most of us. Some people come hardwired with authenticity, but most of us spend more time trying to make ourselves look better than we are. Especially at work. Instead, these focused efforts can help to create and maintain transparency in your leaders. 

  • Share your Inbox

Use a shared inbox for company-wide emails. This sends a strong signal that you’re committed to transparency. 

  • Host a Q&A 

Host at least one call where anyone can come and submit questions on any topic anonymously. Answer with honesty and candor. If someone asks a question you are truly not prepared to answer, honestly admit that you don’t feel comfortable answering. Don’t avoid any subject, and don’t ever lie or give half-truths intentionally.

  • Share Bad News: 

The good news is easy to share, we want to shout it from the rooftops. Bad news? Not so much. Still, it is always better to know than to be kept in the dark. Stop trying to sugar coat it or make it sound better, value honestly, and don’t hide the truth, even when it’s hard to deliver. 

  • Give Up Trying to Be Right: 

Stop trying to avoid conflicts and instead, use them to learn more about your team. Encourage people to disagree and express their opinions by being an example. Listen to others, especially when they disagree with you. Don’t listen to respond, but listen to truly understand. This allows for understanding, trust, awareness, and lasting solutions. 

Transparent Leaders in Action:

Still not sure what transparency looks like on a daily basis? Check out these examples of leaders who are known for their transparency: 

  • CEO of Front – Mathilde Collin: Holds weekly meetings for the entire company, and public access to the company’s big picture goals. 
  • CEO of Zeus Living – Kulveer Tagger: Openly shared the dire straits COVID put the business in, which allowed him to pivot and accomplished a successful turnaround.
  • CEO of Kapwing – Julia Enthoven: Started a blog sharing stories about the challenges of running a startup where she is open and honest about the struggles she faces. 
  • CEO of AllVoices – Claire Schmidt: Provides an anonymous reporting tool for questions, concerns, or incidents of bias to be reported anonymously and addressed at all-hands meetings. 
  • Chief of Special Projects of Buffer – Carolyn Kopprasch: All emails are open to everyone as well as salaries and performance information.
  • CEO of Gitlab – Sid Sijbrandij: Live streamed efforts to fix a major cyberattack on YouTube. The team handbook is available to the public and team chats are done almost exclusively using public channels. 

Transparency Starts at the Top

“The single most important ingredient in the recipe for success is transparency because transparency builds trust.” — Denise Morrison

By setting the right tone, you can provide an example of leadership that will benefit all aspects of your company. Many leaders hesitate to be transparent because they worry they’ll be viewed as less authoritative or weak. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People respect those who are relatable, authentic and, you guessed it, transparent. 

With transparency comes higher levels of trust, authenticity, focus, and performance. By building transparent leaders, people work better together, develop faster, build momentum, increase retention and attract new talent. For those willing to put in the effort and vulnerability, the rewards are significant.