As leaders, it is critical that we are able to engage with our teams, be seen as trustworthy, and position ourselves to lead with influence. One way to accomplish this is to increase the level of transparency throughout the organization. In fact, a recent survey indicates job seekers value transparency in a company more so than a fun, relaxed, or casual environment.* Why? Because people want to feel connected to more than a set of tasks. They want to trust their leadership, feel connected to their company, and spend their day among people they can relate to and fit in with.
While there are many ways to display transparency,the most important are to remain consistent, appropriate, and genuine in your attempts. I use the caveat “appropriate” because like many things, transparency is a balancing act. As a leader you can quickly cross the line or unintentionally give others the wrong impression of who you really are and the type of leader you want to be. Show too many cards and you risk offending others or having your team lose respect for you as a leader; don’t show enough and people will question your intentions, think you are a know-it-all, or struggle to build a trusting relationship with you. So, where is that line and how do you walk it? In my opinion, there are three ways to master the art of transparency all while maintaining a boundary of respectful behavior.
1. Show the human side of yourself.
This form of transparency highlights leaders as people first versus having your team see you as the big boss who goes home at night plotting new ways to make employees’ lives miserable at work. Let your team see your human side, flaws and all by talking about your family, telling funny stories from your personal life at home, sharing embarrassing mishaps, hanging funny pictures of you and family or friends. The point is to show a side of you where you are not in control, you are not 100% composed, and you are vulnerable. Walking the line here is critical though to make sure your funny stories and pictures are appropriate. You do not want to share anything inappropriate that would make others uncomfortable or lose respect for you, but it is okay to share that you are really tired this morning because the kids were up all night, or how you slipped in the grocery store in front of ten people, or your dog ran away and you had to chase it for 3 miles, or you are sore because you worked out for the first time in months. Whatever it is, be human and share personal stories that will help people relate to you as a person as well as a leader.
2. Admit you need help.
In your quest to become more human-like, you have to be comfortable admitting your flaws. Everyone has some, everyone makes mistakes, everyone gets tired, has outside of work needs, or has a day where they don’t feel like they can give their 110%. Admitting this, showing others, and most importantly, allowing your team to help builds a level of trust more quickly than assigning tasks or delegating important activities. When you allow someone to see you when you are less than 100% and allow that person to help you in some way, trust forms. I believe people are generally good and have a natural altruistic desire. When we are able to help others, it gives us self-worth, makes us feel good, and increases our confidence. When our bosses ask for help, and we can show them how to do something, or teach them a shortcut, finish a report for them so that they can get home to their sick child or take their dog to the vet, this builds a level of accomplishment and camaraderie and, yes, more trust.
3. Be comfortable saying “I don’t know”.
The old saying “nobody likes a know-it-all’ holds true for our leaders today just as much if not more than it did when we were kids. You are in a leadership role not because you know everything, but because you know how to bring out the best in others. Nothing quiets up a room faster than a know-it-all who has to portray him or herself as the expert on all things. It is not only okay for leaders to say “I don’t know”; it is critical to building a team as it allows each individual to shine as experts in different areas, find their voice within the team or project, and gain confidence to challenge the status quo in an effort to improve processes. Don’t get me wrong, a leader should not walk around acting as though they have no competencies or knowledge at all, but rather encourage others to share their opinions and respond in a way that shows them you are learning from their feedback too. Use these opportunities to specifically label how their feedback helped drive a decision, or how their strength compliments an area where you are not as strong.
If you’ve decided to step into a leadership role, you probably need to face that you never will be an expert anyway. Leadership isn’t the kind of thing that at a certain point you know all there is to know. A leader should always be learning, always be changing, always be striving to be better. And that in itself is a very human, very vulnerable, and very honest place to be. So be transparent – and let people see that. It will not be perceived as a weakness, but a strength.
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