Leaders Must Practice More Transparency — But Without Overwhelming and Scaring Their People at the Same Time!

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3 Min

Written by: Tobias Günther

Imagine you’re sitting across from your doctor. She’s known for her transparency, so she has laid out all the results from your most recent test. But just as she’s finished arranging all the papers in front of you, she’s called to an emergency and has to leave you sitting there.

Obviously, you’ve never been trained to make sense of all these numbers and charts. But you spot some that are printed in red, others that have been highlighted with a yellow marker, yet others that have been circled with a pen. Your mind, quite understandably, begins racing and you start to worry…

The Pitfalls of Transparency

This little story shows that something which is usually very beneficial (transparency) can also backfire if it’s done wrong. It’s quite possible to overwhelm people with information: you can scare them, you can confuse them, and you can lead them to make wrong conclusions.

That’s because transparency means more than just “dumping loads of raw information onto people”. When you give people more information (which you should) you can’t stop there.
Information alone is not enough: you have to provide the context and explanation that’s necessary to understand this piece of information.

Your job as a leader is not to be a news ticker. Your job is to be a sense-maker!

The Benefits of Transparency

Before we talk about a concrete little example, I’d like to remind you of the incredible benefits that transparency offers. (To make sure I haven’t scared you with all of the pitfalls mentioned so far…)

In an earlier essay, I talked about how detrimental (and dangerous) it can be for a team if there’s too much uncertainty — caused by a lack of transparency.

Not knowing where your ship is sailing can be a very unpleasant feeling. More than that, it makes it hard to ask the right questions, make the right decisions, and come up with great ideas.

Transparency is the antidote to all these problems: it can be a true game changer if we, as founders / leaders / managers, become more open and share more information with our teams.

Because when your team has all the information (the pleasant and the unpleasant), they can make much more informed decisions. And, even more importantly, they feel valued and trusted.

A Practical Example

Let’s make a concrete example. Let’s say you decided — for the first time ever — to make last month’s sales numbers open to the whole team.

Your sales reps will probably understand those numbers pretty well. But many other roles on the team will NOT be skilled in reading those numbers.

You’ll have to answer questions like the following… and you have to do so even before they’ve been asked!

  • “Was last month a good one or a bad one?”
  • “And if it was a bad one... why?”
  • ”What does it mean for the business?”
  • “Do we have to worry?!?”

Thoughts like these will be running through your colleagues’ minds. Help them make sense of the information you so transparently shared with them!

Walk in Your Employees’ Shoes

As a leader or a business owner, you have two things (among others) that separate you from most employees:

  1. You have a much wider perspective, a much better overview, and a true birds-eye view of the whole business.
  2. You also, very likely, have a much thicker skin than most employees when it comes to the ups and downs that numbers tend to take during the lifetime of a business.

It’s crucial that we remember this! We need to help our team understand and frame every number, every fact, and every piece of data — in a positive and confident way, if possible.

Transparency can become a very motivating, uniting, and trust-building force in your team. But you have to communicate it well!

In my next essay, I’ll offer a couple of concrete ways where and how you can practice transparency in your own team!

Take care,

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