Transparent Leadership: It Feels Good, and It Works!

2009 June 3
by Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

Transparent screen 1
Creative Commons License photo credit: AMagill

Many years ago I worked for an institution with some very bad habits about a tiny group of people making all the decisions. It felt bad when the decisions were handed down, and even worse when I was asked to participate in the method. Needless to say I’m not there anymore….and not surprisingly, neither is the management team that drove the whole operation into the ground.

Perhaps it was leftover from childhood, when Spy vs. Spy ruled our play time. We found out we could write in lemon juice as invisible ink, and require our friends to use passwords to get into the clubhouse. It was absolutely glorious fun, but kids’ stuff in a grown-up world doesn’t usually translate well.

Knowledge and Status

There are times to keep situations low-key and to keep preliminary planning groups small. Throwing open all processes to a large group from the beginning usually results in chaos and frustration. Problems arise when management fails to plan for appropriate transparency in the overall strategic effort. Your team should be defined as those upon whom you depend to help carry out change, as well as those significantly affected by the results of your decisions. This may mean administrative and executive staff, as well as clients. Rumors and misunderstandings quickly will destabilize your operational foundation once the word is out planning is happening behind closed doors.

The best thing to do is to let people know in regular staff or even client updates that management will be looking at some current issues, and then provide a general timeline for when others will be brought into the dialogue. It is important that people know up-front that their input and perspectives are valued, and will be taken into consideration if any new approach develops. Beware the intoxicating “knowledge is status” dynamic. When people are in-the- know for too long, and fully aware that others are not, they tend to want to protect that status by losing interest in transparency. Your governance team must understand from the outset that your process is an open one long-term.

Truth or Consequences

There is a familiar saying, “Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.” Simply put, this approach doesn’t work. Transparent management is not about asking permission so much as being candid, respectful, and trustworthy; and about extending the same expectations to your team. If we are honest with ourselves as we evaluate our own experience, we must admit that it is rare for colleagues to forgive fully being kept in the dark about the direction of the team they assume they are on. Without full investment in the direction, even the best ideas will falter in implementation. And without that investment, there will not be much incentive or accountability for driving to the goal. In the worst case scenario, your team may have a stake in sabotaging the plan to prove management doesn’t know what it is doing.

Your Cred is Everything

Management’s personal credibility is everything to the success of your organization. Decoder rings and secret knocks are child’s play, not grown-up management techniques. Staying above board early with your team, and as often as possible, puts you at a strong competitive advantage over today’s average approach to planning and engagement with organizational teams.

The added bonus for you? It feels really good, too.

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