“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”
“There’s as much crookedness as you want to find.
There was something Abraham Lincoln said – he’d rather trust and be disappointed than distrust and be miserable all the time.”
Well. This is about business and what leaders share <transparency and the extent of open communication>. In fact. Today I push back, pragmatically, against ‘radical transparency.’ I push back through a lens of the oft fragile relationship leaders have with trust within people who follow decisions. That said. Suffice it to say trust is an important factor in any relationship. But trust, as part of business leadership, is almost mandatory in order to foster a positive long term business organization and culture.
People need to trust the leader to not only make good business decisions, but good decisions with regard to the overall welfare of the employees. It is within that thought that I find my greatest angst with regard to radical transparency.
I decided to write about this because a seemingly inordinate part of the public discourse today centers around the link between transparency <sometimes attached to candor or truth> and trustworthiness. And, oftentimes, the discussion seems to border on ‘complete transparency’ translating into ‘disclose everything.’ That is “radical transparency.”
Ok. This is crazy talk for 90+% of businesses. At least crazy talk when it comes to being a leader of an organization or business. And if it is not crazy it is maybe crazily naïve.
Only someone who has never led would suggest that full transparency about everything going on is a ‘must.’
Unless you are part of a cooperative or 100% democratic organization, a leader becomes the master of ‘unleading’ if he/she discloses everything. Frankly a leader doesn’t have time to explain everything to everyone because they gotta implement, empower and lead.
Now. Even if you have the best intentions and are inordinately honest and act within the highest level of integrity the ‘not telling everyone everything’ path is fraught with peril.
Here is the root of the peril.
All good well thought out business plans contain one part ‘decided actions’ and one part ‘well intended actions’ <actions we plan on taking>.
Uh oh. That means one part, the intentions, is actually dependent upon circumstances <i.e., “if this happens we are most likely to be in a position to do ‘this action’”>. Therefore, intentions sometimes don’t come to fruition because of unforeseen events & circumstances.
In addition, intentions can be ditched, edited, replaced when seen in a completely different context <time & activity> and different circumstances. In other words … what was ‘committed to’ and extremely well thought out and well intended, i.e., “back then it looked good & smart”, may not be the best action to take TODAY.
Navigating the path has no map and great, and good leaders, simply have good judgement, a little luck on occasion, high integrity and, well, suffice it to say good decisions inevitably are associated with good leaders.
If you make good decisions transparency is typically a non issue.
However. Even with good decisions, in today’s world, the fabric of every decision and every action is shredded thread by thread so a leader cannot pursue a path of ‘no explaining, no transparency’ or their entire schedule will be filled with reactive, defensive posturing.
All that said. The transparency decisions are relatively simple, yet, exponentially complex and difficult.
Ok. Let me say that the formula is very easy but less easy to actually put in practice.
Here is how simple it is.
What should I share. What should I say or show. What is enough. What is too much.
Whew. Not all ‘whens’ are created equal. When do I share what I decide to share <physical location as well as time stamp>. When do I tell everyone versus some people.
The format. How you say something is almost more important than what you actually say.
Look. The truth is no good leader tells the organization and public everything. In fact, a good leader may purposefully avoid telling people the ‘whole truth’ until things have played out a little longer simply because too much information in the middle of something <a crisis, a situation, a business flow> can actually inhibit progress rather than escalate progress.
And let me share the ripple effect of full transparency which non-leaders struggle to understand <unless they think about it from a personal level>.
Ripple effect 1.
I will be honest. While I loved leading and I loved making organizational decisions with an eye toward how the decision would ‘ripple’ throughout an organization, if I knew that I would be recorded all the time <and there is a risk it could be released at some point> and if I knew any & all my emails would become public I think I would have to be a different type of leader.
I am fairly sure my thought on this is not unique and that many leaders would agree.
Some decisions take an experiential based leap of faith which in a fully transparent world would look idiotic in flat published email records.
Ripple effect 2.
If I knew that the email communication would be shared BEFORE the conclusion of the decision I would end up being so careful far too much energy would be focused on the unimportant worrying <or just being overly cautious> rather than simply doing what a leader is supposed to do – think and act with integrity.
Some transparency is always good. But, if everyone were truly honest about it, transparency after the conclusion of something is almost, say 99% of the time, a complete waste of time.
Why? In hindsight everything is viewed differently than how it is viewed within the moment.
Transparency in this case only breeds second guessing and finger pointing. Far too much energy in today’s world seems to be directed towards putting mechanisms in place to minimize untrustworthiness.
This effort has some odd repercussions:
– instead of maximizing trustworthiness it tends to reinforce bad behavior – an underlying belief that unless there is some sort of document to hold a person accountable, being untrustworthy is alright.
– it makes the real trustworthy people feel defensive with regard to their behavior
I like some transparency because it does breed some sense of trust <but, let’s be clear, most trust is earned by actions>.
But I imagine my real point is that it seems like we have a trust issue in today’s world <we don’t trust anyone> and therefore have decided to encourage the insane concept of being so transparent everyone can see in real time everything you are doing.
I am not suggesting blind trust in all leaders but I am suggesting an attitude adjustment.
Know this <1>.
A high integrity leader unfettered by insane ‘trust’ checks & balances is amazing and typically does brilliant and great things.
Know this <2>.
Transparency inevitably breeds second guessing.
This seems stupid?
This email is insensitive?
How could they have ignored this?
… shit like that.
I am certainly not suggesting a lack of transparency. I am simply suggesting that balanced, or balancing, transparency is almost integral to effective leadership. Open communication doesn’t mean telling everyone everything or show a blow-by-blow email trail with regard to decisions and work.
Leaders get paid to make decisions and sometimes permitting a leader to make the tough ones unfettered by second guessing and an inordinate amount of explaining <explaining to the next level of management is much different than explain to the public or a full organization>.
All I really know are the trolls who lurk in the comment section of every major news publication demand transparency and then immediately shred each piece of information into miniature bamboo shoots they shove under the mental fingernails of anyone they can reach to suggest the world is led by idiots.
And, contrary to popular opinion, most leaders are anything but idiots and given the freedom to make the best decisions for the people AND the business will do just that … make the best decisions.
While I wholeheartedly believe in transparency, full, radical, transparency? I hate the concept.