Creating Transparency - The Character Series, Part 3

One of the key leadership behaviours that generate trust is to create transparency. To allow others to ‘see through’, by being open and authentic, and honest about our intentions.

The opposite behaviour is hiding and obscuring facts or our intentions. And because hiding and obscuring is something no leader will openly admit to, people have invented the practice of developing a so called hidden agenda

We can’t fool ourselves: A hidden agenda is still the same as hiding and obscuring. But its devious addition lies in proactively painting a completely different picture, that create the impression about us being open, authentic and honest about the facts we share and the intentions we have.

However tempting it may be to advance a hidden agenda to produce an outcome we desire, it’s a bit like in the tale with ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ - just in reverse: You may think your real agenda is hidden, but in truth most people will sense it eventually, and it makes trust incredibly fragile.

Now, (sadly) there is a good chance that some may temporarily succeed with a hidden agenda. I’ve seen it happen often enough to think otherwise. But it always comes with a price. 

At the very least, that price is a leader’s future inability to create a loyal following across the board. At its worst, the price may be the leader's head and potentially irreparable damage to employee, customer and investor relationships. Let me explain.

Imagine this. If I am clear about someone else’s motives, if I get the sense of someone being truthful and authentic at all times, then trust comes easy. I know that this person is not going to mislead me or others. I am going to become more inclined to grant my trust, for the other is telling the truth in a way that is verifiable for me. 

I can be increasingly certain that the other person is not hiding or obscuring important information. 

Now, some leaders really good at SEEMING transparent. For example, they would share what seems to be their intentions and also take action towards that, but their true interests remain undisclosed. To everyone else, they make it APPEAR AS IF they are being open and authentic.

This is how some leaders believe they can get their desired outcomes: by sharing a dummy truth, or by creating a diversion. Or by publicly declaring an intention, while in parallel they secretly act in a way that is betraying said intention.

  • We find it in the promised promotion that never happens, as the manager invents new promotion criteria every year, while in truth they need you right where you are
  • We find it in the corporation that acquires our company, swearing that they value the people, while the only thing they ever needed was the patents. And once the deal is through, launches wave after wave of layoffs.
  • We find it in the scripted demo to the executive sponsors for a new IT project, that leaves the executives impressed, while in reality a fraction of the promised functionality has been realized on time, but has secretly been declared “out of scope” to the users

This list could be endless. I think you get the idea. 

  • The employee learns that he cannot trust his manager. Other team members see this, too, and have to conclude that they may share the same fate. People outside the team never apply for open positions in that manger’s team, because everyone knows it’s a career dead-end.
  • For the company acquisition, the acquired employees learned about the stay-bonuses for key personell, even though the company attempted to keep that a secret. The less fortunate staff will conclude that their days are numbered and start looking for a job elsewhere. The company’s practices become public on GlassDoor, and key market talent is turning down offers to join the company, as they can imagine what value the company truly puts on people. 
  • The project manger got promoted on false premises, but the truth was made public by the outraged users. While the executives didn’t want to admit failure either, nobody ever trusted the project manager again with anything important.
Real transparency means shining a light so that nothing important about the truth remains in the dark or obscured.

We can enlist others to a loyal following only if we pro-actively tell the truth in a way that others can verify. People are smart - they will be wary about “the truth” as long as some part if it seems unverifiable or obscured. 

I want to share two more considerations about creating transparency.

First, it can be illegal. There are situations and circumstances in which sharing certain information is simply illegal. An example would be sharing facts you may have learned about a company while under a non-disclosure agreement.

Secondly, creating transparency won’t work as a stand-alone method for creating more trust. t is insufficient for creating trust, if such transparency uncovers other areas that demonstrate a deficiency in honesty, respect, integrity, fairness, humility or responsibility. Which is probably the main reason why most companies fight so vehemently against having to openly share everyone’s salaries, as undoubtedly it would shine a light on the many unfair differences in compensation among peers doing the same job, men and women, old and young, as well as unjustified favoritism, that doesn’t seem to follow any objective criteria.

I am not saying this is a good reason not to be transparent. But I am saying you can’t do only one thing right and hope to fix trust. You have to commit to the whole package!