Transparency…the gateway to trust
Transparency has come up frequently in this past week when discussing the higher qualities of both leaders and organisations. You’d imagine it would be pretty straightforward…the less we hide, the more transparent we are, and the more we are trusted…in many ways it’s a simple formula.
We all know, however, that it rarely plays out as simply as that. On the individual level we have a cornucopia of anxieties, fears or just plain character flaws that can lead to degrees of defensiveness or, in some cases, a deliberate intent to hide information. On the organisational level, we tell ourselves that ‘some’ information must be kept confidential, hidden, only for a small group and whilst that may be true in part, the key question is, what is motivating our actions and how far does that distort the desire to be transparent?
So often information of any nature has to do with power…and we don’t like to feel powerless. On a personal level, giving away too much information about ourselves can make us feel vulnerable and deeply exposed. In an organisational context the relationship between hierarchy, power and information control is a well known one. And whilst I’m not arguing for reckless sharing there are new boundaries to be developed. Boundaries based on a higher level of trust and respect.
In teams for example, it can take a long time for people to step into greater disclosure of their challenges or hopes often for fear it may come back to bite them in some cases, or they may be seen weak or imperfect in front of the ‘boss’ and/or colleagues.
The case for greater transparency though is strong. Firstly, we are increasingly becoming aware of the need for greater cooperation and creativity if we are to successfully navigate our ever-changing global landscape and work together to address the barriers to creating a better world for all. This is evident on a personal, local and global level. Whether we are facing the need to become more technologically savvy or cope with new ways of working in the COVID world on a personal level, or learning how to lead and motivate remote teams on an organisational level – the pull toward greater cooperation is there. Cooperation that is hampered, if not fully obstructed, by a lack of transparency and openness.
Overcoming any resistance we feel to being vulnerable, less powerful or defended is both an individual responsibility as well as a leadership one. Cultivating a culture where sharing is seen as positive and required, is the job of leadership. Without greater transparency we cannot achieve higher levels of ethical and moral behaviour, both of which provide the bedrock for trust. Trust which is extended when we can also value vulnerability as a strength, because it engenders real connection and strengthens bonds and relationships.
Scandals and the resulting legislation has brought new levels of transparency on a governance level and that’s important. But culturally, we need to step further into the behavioural skills and mind-set that places openness, and the resulting growth of trust, higher on the agenda.