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Why (And How) Every Leader Should Practice Transparency


The smaller your company is, the more important it is that your leaders are transparent. 

Transparency doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some people worry that providing too much information access to too many people could have negative consequences. Others simply lack the emotional intelligence (a.k.a. emotional quotient, or EQ) to recognize when they’re not being transparent.

Whether it’s intentional or not, the less transparent you are, the less your employees feel that they’re integral members of the team. 

For maximum motivation—and optimized results—leaders should take as radical an approach to transparency as possible.

Why is transparent leadership essential?

The key impact of leadership transparency is that it helps combat the hierarchical dynamics that might ostracize lower-ranking members of a team. When people have restricted access to information or reduced contact with leaders, they both feel undervalued and lack necessary context to invest their time properly. 

Here’s what makes transparent leadership so powerful:

  • It gets everyone on the same page. Part of leadership transparency is making sure everyone is working toward a set of common objectives—common business goals, common KPIs for evaluating those goals, well-understood performance expectations. 
  • It motivates the team (and improves their performance). One of the most powerful lessons I learned from my father came from an initiative he ran at a large (500,000+ person) company. Even in that big of an organization, he came up with ways for employees to have their voices heard by the CEO and to propose (and run) their own strategic initiatives.

    The result: Lower-ranking members of a giant organization felt like they had the ear of the CEO and chances to reap the upside of sound strategic ideas. This is much harder to do in a large organization than a small one, but doing so successfully has the same motivating effect.
  • Enables two-way feedback. A healthy relationship is one where both/all partners feel comfortable giving each other feedback. Plaudits for good results; constructive critique on areas of improvement.

    Part of transparent leadership is establishing systems for two-way feedback. Employees should have a clear sense of what they’re doing well and where they should improve, and they should feel comfortable delivering the same input to their leaders. True two-way input creates a positive feedback loop that enriches and strengthens culture—crucial in early stages.

How leaders can become more transparent

  • Hire a leadership coach. Outside perspective and expertise is crucial to making sure you’re treating the disease, not the symptoms. Leadership coaches will help you develop your full palette of leadership skills—which will include transparency, but which will also include other skill areas that support efforts toward transparency.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. No matter how big your company, transparency hinges on communication. I recommend making face-to-face, interpersonal communication as much a fixture of as many people’s days as possible. You just don’t get the same effects from an email or a webinar as you do from a one-on-one conversation.

    Moreover, one-on-ones allow you to tailor information to each employee’s communication style. Not everyone will connect to a stats-heavy update from a CFO; one-on-ones help you put information in a context that will be maximally impactful to each person.
  • Establish common language and goals. This includes, but goes beyond, things like mission and vision. It gets as granular as KPIs that tell the company’s story, and each team’s story within that overarching story. Employees and leaders should understand both the key objectives and the statistics that gauge the fulfillment of those objectives.

Transparency is important to every organization, but will look different at each. Different companies have different cultural and business goals; transparency is a common tool for developing communication systems to align everyone around these objectives.

I am the founder and CEO of Hydros, an innovative water filtration startup with proprietary technology that works at five times the speed of standard home filtration systems. We strive to create beautiful, convenient, and competitively priced portable and home filtration products to reduce the consumption of single-use disposable plastic bottles.

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