“Transparency” gets thrown around as a buzzword in today’s business and leadership culture, often as a synonym for “honesty.” We have all heard the comment, “I am just being honest.” This is not transparency, in fact I know I am often left with the question of, “Well, what aren’t they being honest about if they had to state this.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe honesty is a tremendously important part of effective leadership. But transparency is more than just “telling the truth.” It’s a far more nuanced, deeply embodied version of what it means to show up honestly in your life.
Truly transparent leaders know themselves deeply and also allow themselves to be known by the people they lead. Transparency is about showing up to the world as yourself, no masks.
This powerful quality requires authenticity, communication, and a strong sense of self.
Transparency requires authenticity.
Is there a gap between what you think you “should” do and what is really aligned with your calling, dreams, desires, and talents? Is there a gap between who you are and how you’re behaving? The process of bridging this gap is the journey of authenticity.
Authenticity is a sense of fidelity between your true self and the actions you take. It’s the difference between “talking the talk” and “walking the talk.”
The act of living authentically in the workplace is counterintuitive; our culture is rife with ideas like, “fake it till you make it.” We’re told that we must act in certain ways or risk failure, even if those ways aren’t true to who we are as people or the strengths we possess. When we’re fixated on what culture says we “should” do, we are unable to show up authentically.
Because it’s counter-cultural in many ways, being authentic can be scary! As a small example, I hate wearing corporate clothing. (Don’t get me started on pantyhose!) Even though I hate it, I did it for years and years. In my early fifties, I stopped wearing corporate clothing. Sometimes, I am somewhat concerned I’ll get kicked out of corporate, because I don’t look like everyone else. Even though it makes me nervous to present myself differently from everyone around me, I do it anyway, because the clothes I wear now are much more authentic to me.
It may be a simple change, but this small act of dressing according to my authentic self has helped me move into a place of transparency that earns the respect of my colleagues and clients. Your authenticity is felt by others and creates a safe space where others can show up more easily as their true selves, too.
Transparency requires clear communication.
A synonym for transparency is “clarity.” In my experience, the number one way you can cultivate clarity in the workplace is through clear, concise, candid communication.
Mastering this kind of communication can be a challenge. A large part of my executive coaching practice is helping leaders refine the clarity and consistency of their communication. Good communication is key to being seen as a leader who knows who they are and where they’re going, which inspires confidence and a sense of security in followers. This is the ultimate expression of transparency.
However, clear communication does not only involve your communication being understood; it also involves understanding others through active listening. When you are an active listener, you don’t just hear the words being spoken; you listen to the message and meaning of the words. You then reflect that message back to the speaker in your own words to confirm your understanding.
Clear communication and active communication skills create a flow between you and your colleagues, employees, and/or clients that allows you to understand and also be understood. This kind of clarity is a fundamental part of establishing transparency.
Transparency requires a sense of self.
Just because someone says you’re something doesn’t make you that thing. We all see others through our filters. When we share what we see and believe another to be, even when it is well intended, it comes through our filters. This is not good or bad—until we make it so.
Transparency requires that we develop a sense of self separate from others’ perceptions. As such, awareness of who you are and what others project onto you is critical. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two, because others’ perceptions worm their way into our minds, and we internalize them.
As an example, if you’re the CEO, there’s a perception you have of what a CEO looks and acts like. That perception could have formed for any variety of reasons—maybe it’s based on movie portrayals of CEOs or an early mentor you had. Often there is a gap between your perception of what a CEO should be and what you actually are. This goes back to authenticity.
If you try to force yourself to fit the image of what you think a CEO should be, there is a high probability that you aren’t being authentic to yourself. The gap can widen even further if you try to mold yourself to fit others’ expectations. Letting go of labels and not worrying so much about others’ perceptions allows you to be the CEO that you need to be to lead effectively.
Transparency will transform your leadership.
Moving beyond honesty and into transparency can be a scary jump.
We are often comfortable with the masks we wear—they protect us from being judged, hurt, or rejected. However, they also keep us from being transparent. I believe leaders who hide behind these masks are also shielding the parts of themselves that allow them to lead well and connect with others in an effective way.
When you begin to slowly reveal yourself and step into transparency through authenticity, clear communication, and a strong sense of self, you invite both yourself and others into a new way of being. It will require vulnerability and intention, but if you can make this leap, I think you’ll see a stunning new dynamic within your workplace or group.
For more advice on graceful leadership, you can find The Power of a Graceful Leader on Amazon.
Alexsys Thompson offers this body of work as a testament to her own leadership journey, as well as the journey of hundreds of other leaders. For Alexsys, the tipping point came when she established her gratitude practice and spent a decade refining it. Today, developing a gratitude practice is a key element of her work as a board-certified executive coach. Alexsys also serves as adjunct staff for The Center for Creative Leadership and is a member of the Forbes Coaching Council. She authored The Trybal Gratitude Journals, curated a collection of short stories called Gratitude 540, and is building a retreat center in Vermont that will be a “safe space for souls to show up.”