Trust And Transparency Are Free

Transparency and leadership are similar in a very important way. It has often been said that we are all leaders whether we like it or not; people in our families, social groups and workplaces are always watching us and emulating us (or not). This is where corporate culture comes from.

Transparency works like this too. People see, or think they see, what is really going on. There is a very profound contradiction in terms here because, figuratively speaking, if you close the door to hide what is going on behind it you are actually being very transparent—insofar as people definitely see the door.

Transparency and Leadership
So, as with being a leader, we are all variably transparent whether we like it or not. Moreover, we have developed simple techniques for gauging others. First we ask, “Do we like what we see?” Then we try to detect or suspect and effort to disguise something.

If the answer to the first question is “yes” and the answer to the second question is “no,” then transparency is working in a positive way and trust is established. While not 100 per cent foolproof and worth revisiting periodically, these two basic steps are something we all do almost involuntarily.

The challenge therefore is to translate this “casual” transparency into the workplace so that it becomes the fundament upon which all else builds. What this boils down to is a harder look at management—of ourselves, our teams and groups, and our organizations—to find a truly genuine path of leadership and shared results.

Why Trust is a Must
So what does trust have to do with transparency and why are we discussing them together? As discussed by Stephen Covey in his book The Speed Of Trust, and in previous PeopleTalk articles, high levels of trust actually generate financial benefits for the organization.

Importantly, one of the four key elements of trust is intent. People trust leaders when they are confident that the leaders’ agenda, vision or ”why” is consistent with their interests. Moreover, we have seen from the discussion above that people really do see what the leaders’ intent is, whether the leaders make any effort in this regard or not.

If leaders want to be truly understood and perceived as being genuine, they must recognize that they are being judged by people who view them through a lens that is inevitably tinted by their own attitudes, ways of thinking and experiences.

The Merit of Questions
Effective leaders understand that their “message” must not only be delivered, but that it must be perceived and understood correctly by those that get it. This is true transparency.

In order to effectively actuate the transparency that we now know is already there, the key questions that must be addressed by leaders are:

  • What is important to the people for whom the message is intended?
  • How will they interpret your message?
  • If they have heard similar messages from others how will yours stand out?
  • How will you make your message credible?

Anchoring With Integrity
Another key pillar of trust is integrity. This was most famously characterized by Mahatma Gandhi, about whom it was said that what he thought, felt, said and did were all the same. If leaders’ actions don’t match their words or their words don’t match what people know to be their true thoughts or feelings, then those people will not accept the stated intent of the leader and there can be no trust in that situation.

We started with the premise that trust and transparency are free i.e. they do not cost any money. Frankly, as shown, they are much better than that. When there is genuine transparency, there is a higher level of trust and this generates very definite and specific financial benefits for organizations. If you want your organization to be more profitable or financially viable then trust and transparency are your tickets to that destination!

Doug Turner, MSc, MBA is a leadership and executive coach at True Balance Coaching.

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