I often hear from people on the leadership team of one client that their boss (call him “Fred”) is not very “transparent” with them. Lack of transparency is easy to complain about when people feel like they don’t know what’s going on or they’re concerned that they are being left “out of the loop.” People expect and even demand transparency of others, and yet as leaders we can easily overlook our own tendency to be vague or even unintelligible with the people who depend on our leadership.
Merriam Webster defines transparency as the quality or state of being transparent, and then goes on to define the root word as:
- free from pretense or deceit: frank
- easily detected or seen through: obvious
- readily understood
- characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.
I’ve made it a practice to have Fred open all of our team sessions, welcoming his people and confirming his commitment to the work we are doing with his division. Prior to any sessions we have, I meet with Fred to find out what he has been dealing with, and then coach him on what I think his team needs to hear from him.
On the one hand, Fred is quite pleased with the ways in which his team has stepped up and taken on leadership roles with their internal meetings and client presentations. He likes to observe and watch from a distance. On the other hand, he forgets that they look to him as their leader. He has been traveling for most of the past two months, and the team wants to know what he has been working on and what feedback he has on their progress.
Said another way, Fred is often missing from the team, and it’s missing for Fred that he’s been missing.
After Fred and I talked about that, he made a powerful presentation to his team at the start of yesterday’s session. He was very much himself, and at the same time a bit sheepish as he acknowledged his absence, appreciated the team’s accomplishments while he was away, and proposed areas for further development.
Observing the listening in the room, I saw that he doesn’t normally begin meetings this way. After a period of wide-eyed silence, one team member looked down across the table and said somewhat shyly, “You are our leader, and we really do miss you, so thank you for that.”