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How Great People In Leadership Use Transparency

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I have been very fortunate to work for and be in the presence of some of the best leaders in the business. Although there are a ton of lessons learned, I have come to appreciate one fundamental building block that I have seen each of these great leaders use – the effective use of transparency.

I have taken those lessons from others and incorporated it into my leadership philosophy. I want people to know what is going on to ensure they have context about the situations that impact them. But over the years I have learned to appreciate the nuances of transparency. It is not a cut and dry application.

Let’s start by defining transparency. In its simplest form, it is the visibility given to an item when looking through a medium. To break it down into simple components, transparency comes down to:

  • The person getting the visibility
  • The “medium” giving the visibility
  • The item that is being shown

Then, look at leaders that you respect. What I saw from those I greatly admire was their ability to be that medium and determine the right amount of visibility to give. They did not treat transparency as a binary notion (i.e. all or none). Those truly great leaders figure out that transparency is actually a sliding scale that should be adjusted based on the circumstances. This applies for those situations where leaders have to manage up, across, and down. Depending on the audience and the item being shown, the truly great leaders figure out the right amount of transparency for the situation.

Does not giving 100% transparency mean that you are lying? Early in my career I would have said yes. Why wouldn’t you give a person 100% of the information you have? But now I realize that leadership is not giving the right answers, it is working to find the right questions. But how does this translate to transparency? Well, how do you know if the information you are giving is correct if you have not figured out the right question? You don’t. So if you think you have all of the answers and are giving that as your “transparency” to others, you are actually hindering the process of finding the right questions to ask.

My learning experience is not done, but truly enhanced by the realization that transparency should be a means to an end… not the end itself. When looking at your use of giving visibility to others, I would challenge you – are you using it to provide the answers or find the questions?

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