How transparent should you be as a leader?

Two things I’ve found helpful to consider when trying to decide what to share— and what to keep to myself.

Claire Lew
Feb 12, 2019 · 4 min read

How transparent should you be as a leader?

This is a question many leaders struggle with — including myself. Do you share financials with the company? Or how about salary? How open should you be about why someone was fired?

From open-book management to making compensation public within the company, the concept of transparency in the workplace is more popular than ever.

Understandably (and rightfully) so. As a concept, transparency makes sense: If you want your team to behave the way that you would behave, they need access to the same information that you have. And, the more transparent you are, the more you’re likely to build trust within your team.

But what about the unintended consequences? Can transparency backfire? Do you inadvertently cause panic in a company when you reveal what the monthly burn rate is? Do you encourage resentment from more junior employees when you reveal how much senior employees in the company are making?

As a leader, how do you decide what to share with the rest of the team and what not to?

A few months ago, I spoke with the insightful Des Traynor, Co-founder of Intercom, on this topic. For Des, deciding how transparent he should be was one of the hardest lessons to learn as a leader. And as a CEO myself, I couldn’t agree more.

In our conversation, Des shared with me two things to consider when deciding how transparent you should be in your company:

Transparency requires context.

In other words, the negative reaction came from the lack of context about the revenue numbers. What that CEO wished he would’ve done was share more context. If you share revenue numbers without context of monthly spend, people start wondering, “Where’s all that money going?” So for example, at my company, we share revenue numbers, within the context of also our profit margin and expenses — so it’s understood how revenue supports our business as a whole, and not just “here’s the pile of money we’re making.”

Transparency is a spectrum.

At the end of the day, transparency is truly a positive force. When it does backfire or causes fallout, it’s often because a leader hasn’t often taken the time to consider these two things: Transparency requires context, and transparency is a spectrum.

As you think through what you should be transparent about in your company, keep in mind these two things. Hopefully, they’re things you won’t have to learn the hard way.

This article was originally published for Inc.com.


Know Your Team Blog

Thoughts on how to become a better leader, and avoid being…

Claire Lew

Written by

CEO of Know Your Team (http://knowyourteam.com). My life’s mission is to help people become happier at work.

Know Your Team Blog

Thoughts on how to become a better leader, and avoid being a bad boss. Try our manager tools for free at knowyourteam. com

Claire Lew

Written by

CEO of Know Your Team (http://knowyourteam.com). My life’s mission is to help people become happier at work.

Know Your Team Blog

Thoughts on how to become a better leader, and avoid being a bad boss. Try our manager tools for free at knowyourteam. com

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