Transparency vs. Secrecy: What Kind of Leader Are You?

by Granville Triumph

People have instant access to more information than ever. If they suspect an organization or individual isn’t being completely forthright with information, they can usually find out if that suspicion is warranted if they do enough digging. People demand transparency when it comes to how food is prepared, the costs involved in buying a car, and how taxpayer money is being spent. Lack of transparency results in an erosion of trust.

Employees demand the same level of transparency from leadership. However, many senior executives have a tendency to keep certain facts, data, decisions and the reasoning behind those decisions to themselves. Some leaders take this approach to assert or maintain power and control. Others think they need to protect people from themselves. In other words, employees aren’t ready to hear the whole truth. By keeping information close to the vest, leaders are looking out for the best interests of their employees.

Essentially, leaders who use these reasons to maintain a high level of secrecy are attempting to rationalize their reasons for doing so. This approach is bound to backfire, especially when information and rumors can spread so quickly. Employees wonder what information you’re hiding. They jump to conclusions and retreat to dark corners of the office to see if other employees agree with their suspicions. Some employees take these conversations to Facebook and Twitter. The more you keep something secret, the more your employees will want to reveal your secret.

These kinds of reactions can be prevented if leaders become more transparent.

Transparency involves keeping people informed about what’s happening and why decisions are made. If something needs to be kept confidential, you can still explain why. If more information will be revealed in the future, ask for patience, provide a date for sharing additional information, and deliver on that promise. Be authentic. After all, technology almost forces leaders to be more transparent, making secrecy a risky proposition.

Secretive leaders use information as a weapon. Transparent leaders use information to build trust and loyalty. They’re not threatened by informed and empowered employees. Strengths and weaknesses on all levels, both individually and organizationally, can be identified and addressed. Transparency enables the leader and the organization as a whole to acknowledge and learn from mistakes, solve problems, and move forward with confidence. After all, employees don’t want or expect leaders to be perfect. They want leaders to be human.

Transparency enables leaders to motivate and inspire employees. Employees in turn are more likely to embrace the company culture because they have a better understanding of the company’s values and the character of its leader. Employees feel as if they’re part of the process and part of the solution, leading to greater engagement, commitment and productivity. They know the endgame, and they’re willing to work to achieve it.

It’s always better for leaders to be upfront and transparent. When rumors swirl and productivity and performance suffer, the leader is the one who ultimately will be held responsible.


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