They pick a word or phrase and use it so much it gets a life of its own. And whatever relevance it had to begin with is lost in the faint nodding of heads (because everyone is supposed to agree) or the rolling of the eyes (because people are tired of that buzzword).
The buzzword of the day is transparency.
While some buzz words are manufactured, transparency is a real word with a real meaning. Unfortunately, due to its over-use, the relevance of that real meaning has been largely lost as it has become consultant-speak and corporate-speak.
Today I am going to demystify and deconstruct the word so we can all get back to what it really means and how that meaning can inform our work as a leader.
Upon a Google search of the definition of the word transparent, I found the first two definitions to be very insightful.
1. (of a material or article) allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen.
“transparent blue water”
Synonyms include clear, crystal clear, see-through, translucent,
2. easy to perceive or detect.
“the residents will see through any transparent attempt to buy their votes”
Synonyms include: obvious, evident, self-evident, undisguised, unconcealed, conspicuous, patent, clear, crystal clear, plain, (as) plain as the nose on your face, apparent, unmistakable, unambiguous
Let’s take each of those descriptions and apply them to our work as leaders.
Transparency is Making Things Clear
When we translate the first definition to our role as a leader, it encourages us to think about what we let people see or know about. When politicians talk about making government more transparent, this is what they are talking about – giving people the chance to see everything that is happening. What does this mean to us as leaders?
- Share as much information as you can, as soon as you can. People want to know what is going on. And when you are the leader, they assume you know more than they do. You know that sometimes that is true, and sometimes it isn’t. When it is, let people know what you know. Pull back the curtain. Doing this reduces their anxiety, gives them better information, and reduces the amount of gossip in your organization (and heaven knows, less gossip is a good thing!)
- Err on the side of sharing. If you aren’t sure if you should share, start by assuming you should and convince yourself not to, not the other way around.
- Encourage questions, and answer them. Sometimes leaders share information in a meeting, and don’t really ask for questions. Intentionally or not, this can lead to people thinking you are being selective in what you share. When you invite questions and answer them, you are going “off script” and you are being seen as more transparent and open.
- Show people what you see. Your perspective as a leader is different than that of your team. Share your insight and help them see the bigger picture. The more they see, the more they will understand what you are sharing in the proper context.
- Timing matters. Yes, as a leader there are things you can’t share – judgement, legality, or other reasons prevent that. Guess what? People understand that. If you are doing the first four things on this list, no one will begrudge the fact that there are some things you can’t share, or you can’t share yet.
Transparency is Being Clear
The second definition relates to the need for us to be more personally transparent. That may be a scary thought to you, especially if you are a more private person. Scary perhaps, but maybe not quite as scary once we unpack what it really means:
- Be consistent. At some level, people what to know what they are getting with you. When they do, trust levels will grow as you become a more known quantity.
- Lead from your values. What are the values that you hold most highly? If you are clear on them and lead from them, you will be more persuasive, more consistent (because you know why are you are doing what you are doing), and more transparent too.
- Share more about yourself. Do people know about your hobbies, idiosyncrasies and your background? Do they know what you care about and are passionate about? You don’t have to share everything, but when you share more, people will reciprocate and you will build better working relationships and higher levels of trust. Scary perhaps, but completely worth it!
- Be real. Be yourself. Warts and all. Notice one of the synonyms above – “unconcealed.” You don’t have to share your deepest darkest secrets, but you don’t have to try to be perfect either. News flash – people know you aren’t perfect. Bigger news flash – they don’t want you to be. Yes, you can continue to try to improve, yes, you can try to be the best version of yourself, but people want to follow someone human and real, flaws and all.
Don’t shrug your shoulders and cross your arms the next time the buzzword transparent is used at work. Rather think about what it really means, and how you can achieve it as a leader.
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