Organizations understand the need for leadership. And they also know the importance of transparency. But what about the concept of transparent leadership?
Let’s start with a helpful definition.
Leadership is the ability to “lead” or influence others. It’s different from management, which is defined as the functions of planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling. Obviously, we want managers to be leaders. But leaders do not necessarily have to hold a management job title. Leaders exist at every level of the organization.
Transparency in a non-business context means “to be able to see through.” As in, “this teacup is transparent” or “the light bulb is transparent.” If we apply this concept to people, it means that people can see who you are. This in no way implies that a person is easily manipulated. It also doesn’t mean that a person can’t have a little mystery (i.e., transparency isn’t the same as TMI).
So then, what is transparent leadership? Transparent leadership is when people can influence the organization by sharing information and being open to ideas and feedback.
Transparent leadership is when individuals can influence the organization by sharing information and being open to ideas and feedback.
The benefits of transparent leadership
Transparent leadership benefits the organization in many ways. It starts with trust. When individuals know what to expect from a transparent leader, then they can trust them. When we trust someone, we can build a positive working relationship with them. Positive working relationships lead to better employee engagement.
This isn’t to say that transparent leadership is exclusively focused on positive messaging.
If by chance something in the organization doesn’t go as planned, transparent leaders will tell employees what’s happening and what the organization is doing to fix it.
All these things—trust, positive working relationships, employee engagement, and good communications—are things that lead to improved employee retention. According to research from MIT, trust in the workplace leads to a 260% increase in motivation, 41% lower absenteeism, and 50% less turnover.
Six ways to be a more transparent leader (with examples!)
Being a leader in today’s fast-paced work environment isn’t easy. Adding transparency to our interactions with others can make a noticeable difference. Here are six ways you can be a more transparent leader along with some workplace examples.
Set expectations. Employees want (and need) to know what’s expected of them. Some of this information is covered during the interview. But orientation and onboarding programs are other activities where transparency about performance standards and expectations is key.
Example 1: A manager explains to a new employee how their performance will be evaluated using the organization’ s performance review form and gives examples.
Example 2: A new hire is working with a coworker to learn how to fill out a form (aka “OJT” or on-the-job training). The coworker explains how to complete the form and what happens when the form is submitted for processing.
Regularly share knowledge. Organizations have “stuff” happening all the time. New products and services. Discontinued processes. Ideally, employees should be told about these changes before they happen so they aren’t surprised and can respond appropriately.
Example: The payroll department is implementing a new process for submitting time off requests. They communicate the new procedure to managers, who share the new process during a department meeting.
Encourage feedback and listening exchanges. Employees often have great suggestions for making the operation better. Organizations and managers need to create opportunities to hear those suggestions and ideas.
Example 1: The organization decides to implement “skip-level” interviews to get feedback from employees. A skip-level interview is when an employee has a one-on-one with their manager’s boss.
Example 2: An employee is frustrated with the current shift trade process because it takes too long to get an approval. They discuss an idea with their manager and the manager creates a “test” case to determine if the idea is worth presenting to senior management.
Offers rewards and recognition. Organizations must communicate expectations to employees (see #1), and also provide feedback on their performance. We must let them know how they’re doing. And not just when things aren’t going well. No news is good news is not an employee communication strategy.
Example 1: Managers ask their employees how they would like to be recognized/praised for doing a good job, and then they actually do it.
Example 2: An organization creates an internal “teamwork” award where employees can recognize a coworker for their excellent work.
Show your work. UKG research shows that effective leaders show and share their work to gain more support from employees. Showing your work means organizations and leaders not only tell employees about decisions, but also explain how the decision was made.
Example 1: The sales team is struggling to make a goal. The director decides to share the company’s profit-and-loss statement with the sales team. As a result, the team starts brainstorming ideas to generate revenue.
Example 2: An employee is struggling to learn a software program. They go to the library, get a library card, and find a course on LinkedIn Learning that answers their question (learn more about this service here). The employee then helps a coworker who is also struggling with the same software by recommending they get a library card to access LinkedIn Learning.
Follow up. Sometimes organizations aren’t in the position to approve suggestions right away. Budgets might be tight. Other goals might take priority. It’s important to follow-up with employees and explain the status.
Example: An employee suggests to the CHRO that “summer Fridays” would be great for morale. But the CHRO knows that the CEO won’t consider it because of a big client project currently in negotiations. Instead, the CHRO recommends and gets approval for “WFH Fridays.” The CHRO tells the employee the situation and asks for their feedback.
Transparent leadership creates stronger workplace cultures
We all know the importance and benefits of having a strong workplace culture. Organizations can hire, engage, and retain the best talent. But strong workplace cultures don’t happen overnight. And they need more than “employee programs” to survive.
Strong workplace cultures need leadership—transparent leadership.
To learn more about transparent leadership, check out our Culture Playbook. It includes a five-factor model for building a great workplace and a culture worksheet to evaluate your organization.