Organizational Wellness

How to Be a Transparent Leader

Apr 17, 2023
Last Updated May 22, 2024

Transparency is vital to good leadership. Honest communication is a sign of compassion, which fosters trust and loyalty in a team. 

But transparency does not come naturally to every manager. They may want to keep communication with their team streamlined, or worry that sharing too much information too will distract their workforce.

Fortunately, transparency isn’t the same as TMI. Here’s how to spot transparent leadership in action, and ways to implement it in your workplace. 

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Non-Transparent vs. Transparent Leadership

The first step to leading in a way that fosters trust starts with understanding the difference between non-transparent and transparent leadership. 

Non-transparent leadership involves keeping information from staff, making decisions without involving employees, or communicating as little as possible. It can foster an unhealthy work environment and decrease employee satisfaction

Transparent leadership, on the other hand, is open and honest. It involves collaborating with staff, communicating information openly and honestly, and making decisions as a team.

 

Here is a hypothetical example of what a lack of transparencylooks like:

Mark is the CEO of a nonprofit with 60 employees. A top donor recently halted funding, putting the business under financial stress. However, Mark does not want to spark rumors about budget cuts and layoffs. He worries that sharing the bad news with the whole organization could damage employee morale and lead to staff looking for new jobs prematurely. So he decides to only confide in the HR and finance departments.

To make up for the financial hit, Mark and the HR and finance teams decide to cut their marketing budget but continue to push the development team to find new donors as soon as possible. Although they know that a donor just left, Mark’s closed-off behavior causes them to wonder if they are in severe financial trouble. Rumors and speculation spread quickly, yet no one brings their worries to Mark since it’s evident that the matter is off-limits.

Right as Mark is about to bring in a big new donor, one of his top-performing donor relations specialists quits and takes a new job that she feels will be more secure. Her departure puts additional strain on the rest of the team, leading to a decline in donor relations and causing too many bottlenecks in project completions. Ultimately, their financial problems worsen, and Mark does need to lay off two people. This causes a further decrease in morale and productivity.

 

Mark thought that he could stop rumors from spreading by not discussing the donor’s departure. Instead, Mark’s decision to remain secretive led to rumors starting. If Mark had been more transparent about the effects of losing their top donors, the team could have rallied together without worrying that they were in dire straits.

 

Here is what the above example would look like if transparent leadership took place instead:

Mark feels uncomfortable telling the whole team about the donors pulling funding but decides to start the conversation with everyone. The sales and development team members ask what led to the previous donor leaving, and they discuss ways to improve the donor relations process. Mark is honest about the feedback they received and about the financial situation. He encourages their creativity in locking down more donor support.

The HR and finance departments help with budgeting while the development team looks for new donors. A member of the marketing team asks about their job security. Mark explains that they may need to make some budget changes and restructure their marketing plans, but he doesn’t expect to lay off anyone.

The marketing and development teams now work together to determine how to attract new donors. Everyone feels like they are in it together and are willing to put in extra effort during this uncertain time. As a result, the development team secures three new donors quickly, and the organization is back on track.

Mark’s transparency in this second example was beneficial in two ways. First, it allowed the team to focus on finding solutions rather than worrying about the financial situation. Second, it empowered employees and gave them more autonomy. As a result, the team was energized by their success in securing new donors despite the challenging circumstances.

How to Be a Transparent Leader

Impactful leadership is a daily practice. Here are some ways you can begin implementing transparency in your day-to-day operations to foster success at your organization. 

Openly share information, ideas, and plans

Transparency starts with being open and honest about your decisions, plans, and actions. This means being truthful with yourself and others about what you are doing, how you are doing it, why it is essential, and any changes you make during the process. You can, for example, utilize online project management tools to collaborate between departments, managers, and employees that make a project’s status visible to anyone at any time. 

Ways to enact this in your office include:

  • Conduct meaningful meetings regularly
  • Encourage collaboration in public-facing channels rather than private conversations
  • Centralize data and information to make it easily accessible
  • Give credit where credit is due to foster work-life wellness

Set clear expectations

Clear communication is critical to setting expectations for your staff. Defining each person’s role and responsibilities in detail, for example, can streamline workflows. 

Ways to enact this in your office include:

  • Host annual or mid-year reviews with your team members. 
  • Establish quantitative, role-specific KPIs. 
  • Align employee incentives with company-wide goals. 
  • Sent out weekly messages, reminding employees of the latest news, changes, and directions related to their work. 

Take responsibility for mistakes

No one is perfect. Mistakes do happen. When they do, it’s vital for leaders to acknowledge and address them, not sweep them under the rug. Recognizing a mistake and working with others to find solutions shows maturity, dedication to professional development, and can help build trust with your team.

Ways to enact this in your office include:

  • Conduct a thorough analysis to identify how the error occurred, identify key learnings you will use to prevent it from happening again, and sharing this action plan with your team.
  • Institute routine post-mortem reviews of major company projects to identify key learnings, supporting a culture of continuous improvement at every leadership level. 

Embrace transparency from others

Successful leaders are open to feedback and constructive criticism from all sources — their peers, colleagues, subordinates, and customers. This means listening to what others say, incorporating their opinions into your decisions, and promptly addressing any issues that arise. It’s crucial to have a genuine curiosity about your staff’s needs. Embracing your employees’ opinions by acting on their feedback can also foster trust by making it clear you value their input.

Ways to enact this in your office include:

  • Conduct surveys for staff to share their thoughts on leadership decisions or changes in the company. 
  • Have an open door policy for yourself and all people managers.
  • Use the ideas your workforce brings to the table in the decision-making process.
  • Designate company Q&A office hours for people to ask questions or bring up issues. 

Provide consistent performance reviews

Providing consistent employee performance feedback is integral to transparent leadership. It helps workers feel like they belong, provides clarity on how leadership views their performance, and keeps them engaged in their work. Reviews can also foster an environment where people feel safe giving honest feedback. 

Ways to enact this in your office include:

  • Use a consistent review method like BARS so that everyone is judged on the same scale and performance can be tracked over time.
  • Implement department-wide competency matrices so everyone is aware of what skills are expected at every level, including what they would need for a promotion. 
  • Openly discuss career development opportunities such as promotions, changing roles, or new projects each team member wants to tackle.

Instilling a Culture of Transparency

As you become a more transparent leader, you can help others in your company do the same. Consider providing resources and opportunities across the company to foster the tenants of transparent communication between coworkers, managers, and senior leadership. This can include providing online forums for discussion around the challenges of openness in the workplace, offering courses on mindful leadership to all levels, or participating in confidence and trust-building exercises. Doing so can foster an environment where everyone feels supported, safe, and comfortable speaking their minds

You can also incorporate these activities into a broader wellness program. After all, transparency is just one part of creating a healthy workplace! And, as a cherry on top, it can improve your business objectives too.

If you’d like to learn more about improving the wellness of your staff, talk to a Wellbeing Specialist today!

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!

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Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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