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What’s more important  – Empathy, Transparency, Humility or Mastery?

Today, begins a 4-part series on the pillars of leadership – the characteristics of the Elegant Leader that drive Voltage. We’re unpacking transparency today, not becuase of its buzz-worthy nature. Elegant Leaders understand and demonstrate this trait to have rhythm between their ego, their relationships and the organization’s results. The success required to have impact and influence within the organization is largely based upon their behaviors, their habits and the perceptions of others towards their model. Picture if you will a scale with respect on one side and responibility on the other underpinned with the foundation of integrity. Empathy, humility, mastery and transparency define the respect side of the  scale of leadership character. These are black-and-white elements and the Elegant Leader’s own character development and behaviors allow them to demonstrate these three key steps:

  1. They are comfortable in the grey
  2. They are clear concise and compelling in their messaging, and 
  3. They understand the value of high influence relationships to deliver high impact results 

We’re unpacking transparency for the leader, the employee and for the company – why it matters, what it means to have a culture of transparency and how you can be better at transparency. People are drawn to transparent companies. From Fortune 500 companies and brick-and-mortar to online businesses, being ethically sound goes a long way in being a successful company. Companies function at a higher level when they operate transparently.

“I know of nothing more valuable, when it comes to the all-important virtue of authenticity, than simply being who you are.” –Charles R. Swindoll

The reason why transparency is so appealing is largely due to the cultural trends and in human behavior. We are drawn to transparent people. It makes sense we like companies who are transparent, too. It’s not about a new “hack” or manipulative “technique.” It’s about being a real person, a real leader, and a real company.

The expectation for transparency has extended beyond personal interactions and is a reality in business. Across all industries, transparency has never been more important to a successful business model. Withholding or cleverly reshaping information is no longer a viable option for the new era of consumers who are savvier than any demographic before them with skepticism as their default setting. To build brand loyalty, companies and their leader need to first build trust.

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” –Thomas Jefferson

There’s a common misconception  about transparency. Far too often, companies see it only as a tool to be used when admitting a mistake. This shortsighted approach is dismissed as being ashamed for being caught, not for the actually act itself. Customers are far more forgiving of mistakes if a company has a history of being forthright with all interactions. Just as employees are more forgiving of their leader who dives on the sword for their own shortcomings. The pattern of behavior is what we as human beings look for in people and in companies.

A recent study from Harvard Business School took a look at the concept of transparency in a restaurant setting where cooks and customers could literally see each other during the food prep and dining experience. The results showed a striking improvement of 17 percent in customer satisfaction and 13 percent faster service when they are visible. This fascinating look at the power of transparency, indicates customers are happier when they feel they’ve been made part of the process. If we all knew our customers were able to see our every move, we’d be more thoughtful and precise in the decisions we make.

Those benefits aren’t limited to just external transparency, either. Internal transparency — the practice of maintaining open lines of communication with employees, and remaining honest about company operations — is positively correlated with higher employee morale (and therefore, productivity). Transparency in this internal context also builds trust, and makes employees feel that they’re working for a company with higher ethical standards.

“The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity and accountability.” –Simon Mainwaring

In another study by Label Insight, up to 94 percent of consumers surveyed indicated that they were more likely to be loyal to a brand that offers transparency, while 73 percent said they were willing to pay more for a product that offers complete transparency. What can you do as an Elegant Leader that gives Voltage to your leadership, for your employees and for your company or organization? Here’s 5 ideas you can implement once you’ve demonstrated your value as a leader, and how the team can adopt a more transparent culture:

  • They Aren’t Mushrooms. Being disingenuous or duplicitous as the leader will undermine any and all of your efforts. If your people know you care, they will care to know whaat you know. Instead of keeping them in the dark or the “need to know,” share what you can with them and expand that as they demonstrate their own accountability towards the communication efforts. If they know, then they will care. 
  • Honesty Really Is The Best Policy. Avoid filters various other forms of Management Weaselspeak – you know the crap that’s spewed from some book knucklehead read while he was on his yacht in the Gulf. Curate instead of manipulate. 
  • Do It Now. The best time to respond to an issue or a concern and to increase transparency is yesterday. The worst part of life is waiting – waiting for a response, an answer or a decision. Waiting demonstrates one of two things, if not both – you can’t or won’t make a decision and you don’t give a shit. 
  • Did You Hear? Open dialogue minimizes gossip and gets the tensions out in open. Additionally, as the Elegant Leader you must commit to an environment of no recrimination.  Having a dialog and a clear, concise and compelling message reinforcing the importance of transparency throughout the organization, demonstrates your commitment and the quality of your leadership. In theater, we called it wiping your feet at the door. There’s no time for egos. 
  • Start Small, But Start. One easy path to begin on is with your immediate people in showing random acts of kindness. When you have a conversation outside of your office, put your @#$% phone in your pocket. Demonstrate you really give a crap about that person, look them in the eye and listen. Remember, the “L” in leader is to listen and to be a lifelong learner, and you have some learning to do. You may be the Master of the Universe, but you’ve not mastered transparency or you wouldn’t have read this far. 

“Everything one does is a message: activity or inactivity, words or silence — all are messages communicating something.”

Building a culture of change requires a cadence, not just one-of’s. Take your monthly meetings for example. Are they more like a monologue at the beginning.? Do you have to purposefully motivate people to participate? The questions they don’t ask, the tensions not discussed will keep coming back again and again. How are you going to get better traction? From unfulfilled promises to frustrations or disagreements, anything can happen when you open the floor in a transparent culture. As a leader, you have to address every tension, especially those you don’t have an answer for and admit it. It’s okay. I’ve looked over thousands of CEO job desciptions and positions and NO where does it say you have to be the smartest one in the building and you don’t have to have all the answers. You’re only accountable for it all!

Being where the buck stops isn’t easy. Trust helps a team cope with adversity and, instead of blaming each other, find a solution together. Building trust requires transparency, not just in how you communicate but, most importantly, in how you behave especially when unfavorable news is delivered and received. Transparent behaviors provide clarity about your intentions and clearly communicate you are not hiding anything.

This very volatile asset, trust, takes a long time to show favorable gains, and it can be lost with one simple act intentionally or not. Take Tiger Woods for instance.  Once it became public, whether it was one transgression or twenty-five, we lost trust in him, not because of adultery, but because he lied. He lost millions in a few weeks, which would amount to hundreds of millions today. If you have to choose, it’s better to be human than to be caught lying pretending you are perfect.

Transparency, like change, requires a strong commitment – it returns exponentially. When participation and curiosity increase among your team, including challenging you as the leader, it’s a sign that transparency is turning into a virtuous cycle. Keeping it going is up to all of us. Your success as an Elegant Leader with Voltage requires you to have impact and influence within the organization, and it’s largely based upon your behaviors and habits and the perceptions of others towards you as the leader.

The conversation continues with Part 2…

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