After a new business meeting with a team from a company I respect immensely, I debriefed my team, and our attention turned to one of the leaders in the room who was new to the company. I asked my team if they noticed how this leader agreed with what we were saying about the importance of leadership influencing the evolution of the business. But instead of asking follow-up questions about how it applied to his team in the room or the company he had just joined, he began every comment with “Well, yeah, but…” or, “I guess I think…”
My team nodded. Do you know why this leader said that? It’s because he had no leverage. He was new to the company and the industry. He wanted to impress, which made him even more afraid to be transparent. Ultimately, he showed that he really didn’t understand things as well as everyone — especially the people who answered to him — in the room. As a result, he failed to allow those people to have the influence necessary to generate trust.
You can’t control everything.
Many leaders lack this influence in their organizations because they fail to give their employees necessary influence. While making it obvious that he was desperate to cover that up — which is the polar opposite of transparency — that leader tried to keep control of every situation instead of being transparent about what he didn’t know. Control is not necessarily a negative, but it doesn’t lead to influence.
What this leader should have said was, “Listen, I am still learning and really appreciate your helping me better understand this.” Then he could have asked, “Can you help me understand why this is done this way?” He instead tried a power play to make himself sound important but only revealed that he didn’t have a clue.
You don’t have to know everything.
Unfortunately, I find these power plays with people in leadership roles at all levels in all-size companies, but especially new hires looking to make their mark in a chaotic environment. They don’t listen first, just like the leader I mentioned. It is also common with those who are in charge of strategies for multicultural marketing and diversity and inclusion initiatives. Those initiatives are often marginalized and perceived as cost centers (expenses) and not profit centers (investments). Those leaders should be transparent enough to say to people at any level in the hierarchy, “I have got a mess here. I have to learn how to handle it. So I asked myself how you could help me. How can you help me solve for this and create a strategy for growth?”
Why can’t we do this? Generally, leaders avoid this kind of communication because we don’t see power in transparency. We don’t understand the value of admitting we might not know everything to others — both internally and external partners — who can help and work together as a team. We see power in resistance, not relationships. This is a problem in business but also, increasingly, for America as a whole.
It’s not only about you.
Transparency requires leaders to work with a generous purpose. They know the wisdom behind having each other’s backs and working in a place where everyone’s best interests are taken to heart, regardless of hierarchy or rank. When the corporate culture values transparency and promotes honest and direct feedback, it empowers people to break down silos and build bridges to strengthen communication, clarity and understanding.
Leaders and business that work with a generous purpose encourage the sharing of knowledge and wisdom by maximizing and leveraging the intellectual capital that lies within the organization, its employees, clients and external partnerships. Leaders embrace this mindset fully and advance themselves by serving the needs of their people. They are genuine about making their employees feel valued and their clients appreciated because they see it as not only the right thing to do but also as a competitive advantage for evolution and growth. When leaders apply strategic focus with the mindset of evolution, they are in constant renewal and reinvention mode. They have the will to make things better, invest in relationships and cultivate environments of transparency and reciprocity – where diversity of thought is valued.
That’s the power of transparency.
There is so much doubt in the world — not just how but why we should transform ourselves, our businesses and our nation as a whole. But we will keep working at cross-purposes without the courage to see that being transparent actually makes your leadership more powerful. You are not diminishing your influence and authority; you are gaining respect.
Transparency is too often viewed by many business people as a touchy-feely thing. But it is a very serious thing, so stop paying it lip service. The more transparent we are, the more we are creating a foundation for us to think about how we grow not just great businesses but great people at the center of those businesses.