It’s an inside-out and then top-down job.
“What’s done in the dark will come to light.”
“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.” Desiderius Erasmus
As the world continues to navigate unchartered territory with the Coronavirus, people are looking for hope, truth and a light in the darkness. On many levels, these need to come to individuals through a deeper internal search, but within organizational structures these should be coming from leadership. Leaders of business and government need to be held to a standard of truth that may not have been the requirement in previous years.
This is the Moment
This moment in time is a convergence of shifts in society where honest, authentic, genuine and sincere leadership will survive. The pandemic, conscious consumers, globalization and technology all demand that leadership lead with transparency.
This should always be the standard, but society has accepted power and control to be isolated and managed privately among a few “decision-makers” at the top of organizations. As inequality has grown, so has a mindset of separation between leadership and shareholders — employees, customers and communities. Clearly, this has come to a boiling point in society, and we need leaders to lead in their own personal transition to avoid larger societal and political issues.
Would it ever be acceptable to be dishonest with someone about the areas in which your lives intersect? Clearly, we don’t need to share everything with everyone, but we must be honest and truthful about the specific areas in which our lives are connected. Hopefully, family and friends are relationships built upon complete trust, transparency and honesty. These relationships are built on the purpose of acting as a support system in all areas of strength and weakness. This is not the case for every other relationship. A few non-family/friend examples would include: my accountant relies on me providing all of my financial information, my lawyer needs all of the details on legal matters in which I depend upon him, a neighbor trusts that I will be honest about matters that influence their home as well as mine. Why would employees, customers and communities be any different when it comes to how a business influences them?
25% of employees don’t trust their employer, according to a 2014 American Psychological Association survey of 1,562 U.S. workers. The survey also found that only about 50% believe their employer is open and upfront with them.
Employees want leaders to be honest about where the company is headed and forthright about the future. Gone are the days when companies should try to create some false sense of utopia. Today’s employees are too aware and exposed to the realities of human nature and business — they know no one nor anything is perfect. It’s more important to them that leadership be open and honest and protect their wellbeing than provide fake comfort. If the company isn’t looking out for their needs, they are prepared to plan and protect themselves. Only transparency can build trust in the fact that employee wellbeing is at the top of leadership’s priorities.
Transparency Begins Inside-Out
Transparency is a powerful tool because all good foundations are built on trust. People want leaders who can deliver knowledge and wisdom, and wisdom is found in a mind and a heart that has learned through experience. Leaders need to trust themselves first and then show their shareholders that they’re worth trusting. This is why I believe it is an inside-out and then a top-down process. Many leaders are fearful to reveal their vulnerabilities and weaknesses in an effort to appear perfect, but this leads to even harsher learning lessons. I believe that most leaders who have played the “perfect boss” role long enough have had to come through the “ringer” and are transformed through trials and challenges to be more genuine, authentic and sincere in their leadership approach. The key for leaders is to allow these experiences to run their full course to soften their hearts rather than harden them. I’ve seen both: people who have come through great challenges and transformed into amazing and sincere leaders and the converse where people have come through trials ready to fight the world and everyone in it with revenge and anger. It reminds me of a metaphor about the sun’s effect on different objects — the sun hardens clay, yet it melts wax.
It is clear that challenges and trials, as well as their effects, are an inside job. Leaders must have a growth mindset and see everything as an opportunity to grow into a more human-centered leader. Type A, over-achievers, and performance-driven individuals likely got to where they are in a leadership position by utilizing a lot of individualistic behaviors and having a survival mentality. A shift to honesty, vulnerability, collaboration and human-centeredness will be their true success moving forward. An important step will be to start with transparency in relationships in the areas in which they’re connected.
I’ve made leadership mistakes in the past by not being transparent with my employees and customers about matters that clearly affected them. These decisions were not exclusively mine, so I felt the partner disagreements were better left between partners. In retrospect, it would have been better to bring the issues that influenced our employees and customers to the light to have a more complete and powerful point of view on the issues. This is not always possible if all partners cannot agree to involve shareholders on matters that influence them, which is why I am so passionate about partnerships being built on trust, transparency and shared values. Personally, immaturity and fear to perform were the core issues that led to my poor decision making. Experiences, trials, challenges, and faith have brought me down a path to seek the wisdom to lead in truth.
Today, shareholders want and expect their leaders to be more human, less perfect and at times a bit vulnerable. It actually takes strength of character to be vulnerable, so this is a sign of wisdom and strength. This means having the understanding of which areas require transparency as well the wisdom of how to deliver that with the right balance of vulnerability and strength.
One method to do this effectively is to use content to communicate authentically and to a larger audience at one time. Internal and external communication platforms can be used to create transparent content and create a connection from one-to-many much easier.
Content can provide an inside look at experiences, learning lessons, past mistakes, and insight into the direction of the organization. It provides a way to share concerns, discuss issues facing shareholders, and honestly communicate. Content opens leaders up to their audience to reveal insight into who they are and creates a feeling of personal connection.
Here are six strategies leaders can use to develop a new level of transparency and trust with their shareholders through content (source):
- Tackle real issues.
- Admit failure.
- Be prepared for content triggers to come out of meetings, calls, etc.
- Share with your network and encourage external sharing.
- Encourage employees to become thought leaders as well to create more complimentary content.
- Engage and follow up with your audience.
Clearly, there are benefits to embracing transparent leadership for both the leader and shareholders. There are also benefits that will serve the business (source):
- Faster Problem Solving
- Easier Team Building
- Relationships Grow Authentically
- People Promote Trust in Leaders
- Higher Levels of Performance Emerge
All around transparency is the direction leaders must go in order to survive in today’s world. The Cononavirus has revealed many amazing leaders who are tackling the pandemic with the necessary transparency to lead employees, customers and communities as they face uncertainty and fear. Many of them reveal their strength and wisdom in an extremely difficult moment through honest and vulnerable communications. Only then can people believe that they mean and know what they’re saying and that they are one with all of us. It takes courage to choose transparency, but that is what we all need a lot more of right now.