Leadership transparency – should leaders ever avoid it? We as leaders understand that open and honest communication leads to better relationships within the workplace. This type of communication, of course, leads to a more efficient and productive workplace. However, there are times when openness and transparency can be a detriment to the working environment.
As experienced leaders, we understand that communication is one of the essential traits a leader should possess. In his article, 10 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders, Mr. Mike Myatt states that it is simply impossible to become a great leader without being a great communicator. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement.
Leadership transparency and the ability to communicate across the organization, both up and down, are essential to a great leader’s success. There are several traits or skills that leaders need to communicate with subordinates properly. Among the most important of these traits is being transparent and authentic when communicating with your team. Specifically, team members want an honest and transparent leader.
Keep your battles behind closed doors
As a young Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the military, one of the first lessons I learned as a junior leader is how to fight battles for my team in private. There were many times when I did not 100% agree with my leaders. For these instances, I would communicate with my leaders in private to change their minds or modify the task. As a young NCO, I seldom won these battles.
Despite the outcome, I never discussed these battles with my team. Often my team would gripe and complain, expressing the same reservations or complaints that I had expressed in private. However, I would quickly address those reservations and move out with my orders as if they were my own. Your team doesn’t need to know about the battles that go on behind closed doors on their behalf.
Too much leadership transparency could lower moral
As leaders, we may need to convince leadership to make changes within the organization to benefit the team. Similar to my NCO days, some battles we will win and some we will lose. Despite the outcome, there is little benefit in sharing this information with the team. If you were successful, the team would benefit, and if you weren’t, you could go back to the drawing board to devise a better strategy.
However, just the knowledge of those discussions can lower morale and cause discord within the team. Specifically, when your win/loss record isn’t so hot, this can have the team doubting your ability to represent them adequately. Or worse, if you find yourself blaming failures on the lack of support from higher. This discord can lead to an “us versus them” culture within the organization, which is never good.
Leadership transparency can be too much of a good thing
Subordinates want to feel they can relate to their leaders. Knowing some of a leader’s interests, likes, and dislikes can help build trust and hopefully mutual understanding. In the military, especially during deployments, some of the most authentic relationships are forged due to sharing personal aspects of each other’s life. However, too much of a good thing can adversely affect an authentic leader / subordinate relationship. Here are a few examples of oversharing:
Discussing privileged information about leadership or the organization: As a leader within an organization, you may be subject to information about leaders or the organization that is not available to your subordinates. However, these are not your secrets to share, and therefore you should not discuss with your team to be transparent. Additionally, opinions about leadership or organization based on privileged information should also not be shared. This information can only lead to negativity towards yourself, the leadership, or the organization.
Sharing too much with other team members: Subordinates want to feel that they can trust the information with their leaders. Leaders will sometimes use a team member’s conversation as an example or to get the point across or build trust with another team member. Leaders should avoid this method of communication and sharing. Leaders should not break team members’ trust to gain the confidence of another.
Becoming too emotional: Yes, subordinates want to have an authentic connection with their leaders. However, they also want to have confidence in the leader’s emotional intelligence. In my article, 4 Tips to Increase your Emotional Intelligence Skills, I discuss the importance of being emotionally steadfast. Though you may feel that sharing your emotions demonstrates your openness to your subordinates, others may perceive a lack of control.
As a general rule openness, honesty and transparency are vital traits found within leaders who can effectively communicate. However, as leaders become more experienced, they will discover that there are exceptions to every rule. The truly great leaders will be able to discern when those exceptions apply.