How to Practise Transparency in Leadership Effectively
Updated September 30, 2022
Leadership positions have the potential to be some of the most fulfilling a person can enter. A leader's team looks up to them and it's that leader's job to keep the team efficient and in high morale. By learning how to exercise transparency as a leader, you can help keep your team informed while also helping them feel trusted and respected. In this article, we define transparency in leadership, discover how to exercise transparency as a leader, and discuss how this can benefit a team.
What is transparency in leadership?
Transparency in leadership refers to the leadership practice of keeping team members informed and aware of information pertinent to them. For example, a leader acting transparently may alert his team if a company's financial situation has changed. This information may impact their job prospects, future project budgets, and their overall understanding of the company's success. Transparent leadership also involves keeping employees informed about the purpose of their work and answering questions they may have. This leadership style is generally viewed as employee-friendly and is often helpful for morale.
How to exercise transparency as a leader
You can achieve better transparency in leadership positions by practising the following tips:
1. Adopt an approachable demeanour
As a leader, it helps to signal to team members you're willing to discuss matters they find important. Giving employees a way to contact you and schedule short meetings helps make you more approachable. When employees ask questions, try to answer them fully and with no sense of judgement. This helps employees feel more comfortable talking to you in the future. It also can help address problems faster, as employees become more comfortable addressing matters they may have some confusion about.
It's important to remember that the inherent power dynamic between leaders and their team makes comfort important. A leader often has the ability to have a significant impact on team members and can directly affect their livelihood. This can create tension, which a leader can help defuse by being friendly and direct.
2. Share relevant information as soon as possible
The less delay between a leader receiving information and giving it to their team, the more transparent the relationship. If the specifics of a project have changed or broader company politics shift, employees appreciate being told early. This often directly benefits a team's projects, because they can make any necessary changes as soon as possible. If you have some information and are awaiting follow-up reports, you can also share that with the team. Most people can understand and appreciate being told what you know, even if you're waiting for more facts.
In some cases, a leader may wait to share information to confirm its accuracy. This is sometimes important. For example, if the information concerns someone directly and sharing the information may affect their work or personal life. The more impact information may have, the more important it usually is that a leader confirms it's correct. A transparent leader is honest and acts in their team's best interests.
3. Treat your team as more than company assets
Part of transparent leadership is viewing your team members as important contributors within the company. They may contribute to a company's success in a way similar to other assets, but these are also people with emotional depth and lives outside their work. By treating them with the respect humans deserve and thinking of them as important, transparency becomes easier. Keeping a team informed becomes more natural when you start thinking about how information may comfort or support them in making informed decisions.
4. Be honest wherever possible
As a leader, honesty can help you convey new information effectively. While it's important to act respectfully and approach controversial subjects delicately, being truthful about matters you know a team cares about can help everyone. For example, if the team receives negative feedback, being honest helps them learn about it immediately and shows you value them. Broadly applied honesty is a good way for a leader to encourage a positive team relationship.
Being honest doesn't mean you share every piece of information you receive. If you learn of a minor staff change in a different department, your team may not need that information. Honesty and transparency involve being forward with your team about the facts. Keeping every member of a company informed about all company matters isn't necessary, because the team only cares about a small part of the information you may receive as a leader.
5. Handle confidential information as openly as permitted
Transparency can become more difficult if a leader learns about matters that require confidentiality, but it's often still possible. First, identify what you can and cannot discuss about the confidential topic. Then, judge whether any of the information you cannot discuss relates to your team. If it seems especially relevant, you may want to ask the relevant decision-makers for permission to share some of the confidential information.
At this point, tell your team what you can about what you know. If you cannot answer a question they have or know there's a matter they want to know more about, you can say the information is confidential. It may help if you discuss the basics of why you can't share certain pieces of information. For example, in some government positions, certain security protocols may prevent you from sharing information. In other positions, you may have access to client files that you can't share for privacy reasons.
6. Encourage healthy discussion
One way you can actively foster a transparent atmosphere is by openly encouraging healthy discussion. Tell your team you want transparency in the workplace and that they can discuss relevant work matters important to them. One useful way to promote this discussion is with weekly or monthly team meetings where you discuss any changes being made and work with the team to answer anyone's questions.
You can also set some basic guidelines to help keep the meetings polite and on task. For example, having team members raise their hands when they have a comment or question, as is common in schools, can help the conversation flow. This can also prevent people from unintentionally talking over each other. If a team member is quiet, you can also actively take time in the discussion to ask if they have any questions. This direct approach isn't about making them feel pressured, but instead permits them to discuss anything important to them.
How can transparency benefit a team?
A transparent relationship with a team's leader offers several benefits, including:
Reducing hostility and resentment
Transparency is an excellent tool for reducing hostility in the workplace. There are fewer secrets and team members can get clarification on any issues that may bother them. This helps resolve conflicts more quickly through direct, open conversation. Even when a team member disagrees with a particular decision, you can help them understand why you or the relevant decision-maker made the choice they did.
When you keep a team informed, you allow them to work faster. They get the information they may need immediately and can then make relevant decisions with that information. This directly improves workflow. You may also notice indirect benefits if your transparent approach improves morale and reduces workplace conflict. Employees in a good mood often can work with more energy and focus. Transparency allows you to address concerns quickly and reduce any time they might impact performance.
Developing a healthy power dynamic
Honesty can help shift a workplace power dynamic so that individual team members feel more in control. They may value the ability to make decisions with the same information available to the team leader. This often works as an overall healthier dynamic than the more traditional workplace procedure, where a team's leader may know information their team doesn't. For example, if any big changes occur, employees are less likely to be surprised, as they're already aware of the details that lead to that change.
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