Transparent leadership means leading with openness and honesty. Good leaders keep their team in the loop, share information freely, and invite open communication.

Is your team ready to quit you? Studies show that 57% of employees who leave their jobs are fleeing bad leaders. Another 32% are seriously considering quitting because of their manager. 

Effective leadership boosts morale and productivity. Great leaders inspire trust, shape culture, and bring out the best in their teams.

It’s one of the most powerful leadership qualities in your toolkit. Real leaders emphasize transparency to build trust with their team and promote creativity, teamwork, and loyalty.

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Why transparency is an important part of leadership

Manager demonstrating transparent leadership.

Transparent leaders are open and honest with their teams. They want their people to have input on important decisions — and that means sharing information freely so everyone is informed and involved.

Here are the key benefits of transparent leadership:

Empowered teams

Have you ever managed a team where everyone needed your help to do everything? It’s exhausting.

If you’re the only person who can execute company strategy and goals, your team will spend time delegating work to you. Instead, help them make decisions independently by providing the tools and information they need to succeed.

Efficient problem-solving

When your team can make decisions independently, they’re better and faster at solving problems.

Keep in mind that no part of your business exists independently. Every individual job is part of the bigger picture. While you might think providing employees with a broader perspective will be a distraction, it actually helps them understand how outputs and processes affect the entire business.

Employee experience 

You can create a thriving workplace culture built on employee experience with transparent leadership. When you focus on employee experience, work is more pleasant, and your team is more effective. It’s a win-win.

Mutual trust is a fundamental aspect of the employee experience. A robust employee experience can increase productivity, reduce turnover, and improve employee satisfaction. 

Higher employee morale and job satisfaction

Transparency shows your team that you trust and value them. Employees are much more likely to stick around in an environment where the energy they invest in their work feels worthwhile.

That brings us to the most apparent benefit of transparent leadership:

Higher workplace performance

It all boils down to results. Transparent leaders find it easier to get the best out of their team. In an open, trusting environment, teams are more productive because: 

  • They innovate more. Transparent teams have better information and feel safer making risky decisions.
  • They’re more committed to the company’s mission. Informed teams have an easier time meeting company goals. 
  • Communication is better and faster. Transparent teams feel more comfortable taking initiative when feedback loops are more efficient. 

Let’s talk about how to achieve these results.

How to be a transparent leader

Woman asking a question in a culture of transparency.

Transparency can be challenging.

Leaders often worry about the way their team will react to certain types of information. Real transparency often means sharing uncomfortable truths. Excuses like “it will start rumors” or “people might panic” are common.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth for you:

If you assume that your team can’t handle information as well as you can, you’re treating them like they’re inferior. You either believe you’re more intelligent and stable than they are or worry that transparency gives you less authority and power over your team.

Both beliefs are symptoms of a deeper problem — but that’s another article.

Treat your team like they’re just as mature and capable as you are. If you can handle it, your team probably can, too.

Transparent leadership is tough, but it pays off.

Step 1: Share information about your company and projects

The more you open up about the current status of the company and its future, the more your team will trust you. Some transparent companies even publicly share salary information for job listings to set the tone from the start.

Don’t worry about whether or not everyone on your team is experienced or educated enough to understand your financial statements. After all, if they can manage their household finances, they can probably read a profit and loss statement.

Respect your team enough to share your vision for the future and all the information that informed that decision.

Step 2: Be consistent and honor your commitments

Nothing destroys trust faster than a broken promise. If you say you will do something, make sure you do it. Be careful that your behavior doesn’t tell a different story than your words.

Most of the time, leaders don’t intend to break their promises. They mean it when they say: “I want you to have a life outside of work. You shouldn’t take work home with you.”

But what if they’re also sending urgent emails at 5 PM on a Friday? What if they reward those who put in extra hours instead of praising those who turn off their notifications to spend time with their kids?

Leaders have to say (and believe) that they value a healthy work-life balance — but that’s only half the equation. Their actions have to prove that they value work-life balance above an over-the-top commitment to the job.

If you’re struggling with honoring your values, there are three crucial steps to get better at this:

  1. Ask for help seeing your blind spots.
  2. Monitor your words.
  3. Modify your actions.

From there, change your behavior. Nobody achieves perfection, but your team will trust you more and see you’re trying.

Step 3: Create spaces for individual and collective feedback

Honest feedback is hard — especially when your team is navigating blind spots brought on by a lack of transparency. As a leader, you must prove that a culture that allows for hard truths is worth the risk.

A team collaborating

You have to ask for feedback to get your team to start talking to you. Get in the habit of asking people what they think about processes, deadlines, and your own leadership style. Asking for feedback is especially important when leading remote teams

Create safe places for honest feedback. You might consider:

  • Dedicated office hours when your team can initiate 1-on-1 conversations
  • Public Slack channels for input or ideas
  • Anonymous feedback tools that allow employees to send you messages without having their names attached

Step 4: Accept criticism gracefully

Accepting criticism is easier said than done, but think about it from an employee’s point of view. If an employee tells you something and you react defensively, they may begin to worry about their next one-on-one, that upcoming promotion, or even basic job security.

Defensiveness makes your team hide things from you and assume that you hide things from them. If you struggle with uncomfortable conversations, it’s reasonable to think you keep things to yourself rather than share information with the team.

Openness can’t exist when you don’t take feedback gracefully. Transparency can’t exist without honesty. It’s crucial to lead by example here. 

Step 5: Give credit and accept responsibility

Give credit to employees often. When you give credit for individual and team achievements, it proves that you pay attention.

Leaders are expected to know what’s going on at a high level, but what if you knew and recognized individuals going above and beyond? What about when things don’t go as well as you hoped, though? 

Sometimes, deadlines are missed, projects fail, or clients cancel. Follow this general rule: be quick to praise but slow to blame.

Step 6: Accept mistakes without placing blame

Transparent leaders are realistic about the things that contribute to a problem — but that doesn’t mean they place blame on anyone.

Sure, someone might have made a terrible decision. But why did they make that choice?

  • Did they have access to all the information they needed?
  • What external factors had an impact on the outcome?
  • Were they the right person on the team to make that decision?

Most of the time, mistakes are nobody’s fault. Placing blame tells your team you’re more interested in finding fault than finding a solution. Instead, ask your team what you, the leader, should have done differently. 

Make it clear that nobody is in trouble. When you treat mistakes like opportunities to learn, your team will use them to improve instead of shutting down.

Step 7: Request input when making decisions

Nobody has all the answers, including you. You are just as capable of screwing up as anyone on your team. Thankfully, transparent leadership helps make up for your blind spots.

You don’t have to make decisions alone because your team is in the loop. Ask them for their input. They know most of what you know and have widely different perspectives.

Think about it. Instead of choosing based on your narrow view, you can see the situation from every angle. You’ll have information that your competitors don’t. Asking for input shows your team that you trust and value them, too.

Step 8: Hire transparently

There are two things to consider when you hire transparently.

  1. Look for candidates who value transparency, especially for leadership positions. Transparency is an uncommon skill. It’s tough to learn, so look for people who are committed to it. You may find that the best candidates have had trouble with former employers who weren’t transparent. Don’t shy away from these people. They could be your biggest advocates for transparent leadership.
  2. Involve your existing team in the hiring process wherever it makes sense. Ask for input when you create the job description. Even if hiring a top-level leader, ask those who will report to that person what they want in a good boss. They have a strong interest in finding the right candidate.

After you complete interviews, discuss the final candidates as a group. The hiring manager can make the final decision after getting input from the rest of the team.

Step 9: Promote a cultural shift with policies

A transparent company culture is the ultimate goal, but changing a company culture takes time and focus. Keep setting the example, and you’ll start to see change.

By itself, publishing a new company policy won’t change anything. But a new policy makes a difference as part of a coordinated effort. Here’s what your policy should do:

  • Explain your goal clearly — define what transparency means for your company
  • State what you expect from employees
  • State what your employees should expect from you
  • Clarify any limits, such as salary information
  • List consequences if the policy is not followed

Make sure your entire team reads and understands your new policy. It should be easy for them to find on their own and simple enough that you don’t have to explain what it means.

Examples of transparency in leadership

Two teammates bonding over work.

Throughout this article, we’ve shared some hypothetical examples of transparent leadership. But what about some real-life examples?

You don’t just have to take our word for it. In this section, we will practice what we preach and provide transparency into how this leadership style works for real leaders. Here’s what the leaders we reached out to had to say:

Trust improves productivity

As the CEO of Intralinks, Jim Dougherty went from 0 signings to 150 in just 10 weeks. He also reduced burnout and increased revenue by approximately 600%. How? You guessed it. A little trust and transparency. 

New leaders must remember that many of the best insights on fixing a company lie with employees further down the organizational chart. Creating a trusting, honest dialogue with these key personnel should be every new leader’s top priority.

Honesty attracts talent

Transparency isn’t limited to internal communication.

Julia Enthoven, CEO of Kapwing, uses the company blog to talk openly about things that most companies keep to themselves. She has found that this policy helps her company find talented new team members.

Whereas most founders shy away from discussing topics like co-founder conflict or fundraising struggles, being open has increased Kapwing’s brand equity and hype in the tech community.

“Almost every employee I’ve recruited has mentioned the blog as something that impacted their decision to join the company.”

Valuing the opinions of staff increases their self-worth

People notice when their leaders listen. That’s why Simon De Bane, CEO of Officevibe, GSoft, and ShareGate, encourages open communication.

“It’s not because people say they have a problem with ‘X’ that you will fix ‘X,’ but you can talk about it, and people will recognize that. Just knowing that they’ve been heard is what people want most of the time.”

Open communication encourages teams to get involved

Jonathan Wasserstrum is the founder and CEO of SquareFoot. He believes that when you withhold information from your teams, “they grow skeptical or suspicious.”

Instead, he schedules regular team meetings and encourages his staff to ask questions about the company.

“If you’re upfront with your team about what you’re working on and where you’re giving attention, they will likely ask you to get involved and chip in with solutions.”

Develop your leadership skills to improve remote business productivity

Remote teams need transparent leadership. If you’ve been guilty of a less-than-stellar work culture, it’s never too late to start. 

It’s hard to get out of the habit of thinking, “That’s none of your business,” and start speaking openly. This leadership style doesn’t happen overnight, but the results are worth the effort.

Category: Management, Workforce Management