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7 Steps to Transparent Leadership – Creating a Culture of Trust

Creating a Culture of Tust

One of my CEO leadership coaching clients naturally has a very participative and coaching leadership style. However, in this difficult economic climate he made a strategic decision to be much more directive with the members of his senior leadership team. He was very transparent with his senior team members that he was going to be much tougher on them to get through this difficult economic period.  He needed to instill a sense of urgency.

The CEO also needed to be very clear with his senior leaders that they would be accountable for removing any obstacles impeding the performance of employees. He inspired trust by being open about his intention and answering any and all questions.

The CEO needed engage his people emotionally without instilling any fear. The culture of the company needed to retain its’ fun and playful atmosphere where people could be optimally productive.

7 Steps to Transparency

Warren Bennis and James O’Toole offer seven steps for developing a culture of transparency in your organization:

1. Tell the Truth

While this is the most obvious step, it’s also riddled with nuances. Each of us has the impulse to tell others what they want to hear. Instead, keep it simple, and be honest. Leaders who are candid and predictable tell everyone the same thing, and they have no need to revise their stories.

Consistency and truthfulness signal that the rules of the game are the same for everyone and that decisions won’t be made arbitrarily. When people are reassured of this, they’re more willing to stick their necks out, make an extra effort and help leaders to achieve goals.

2.  Encourage People to Speak Truth to Power

It’s never easy for us to be honest with our bosses. It takes courage to speak up, as it entails risk. But encouraging people to share their honest opinions is crucial if leaders want to build trust and open communication. Of course, this sometimes means executives will hear unpleasant information.

How you frame questions is paramount. If you fail to ask your people crucial questions in a manner that encourages openness and frankness, you’ll never uncover the truth.

How you respond – whether you can keep an open mind and a clear head-is vital. Trust is a symbiotic relationship. Leaders must first trust others before the favor is returned.

3.  Reward Contrarians

How easy is it for people to challenge company and leaders’ assumptions in your organization? If you make it acceptable, are willing to listen to opposing points of view and promise to consider the merits of others’ arguments, you pave the way for a culture of transparency.

Your company won’t successfully innovate if you refuse to recognize and challenge your own assumptions. Find colleagues who tend to be oppositional, listen to them intently, and create conditions for thinking differently. “Thinking outside the box” should have a pragmatic meaning, even if the slogan is frighteningly overused.

4.  Practice Having Unpleasant Conversations

Few people excel at delivering negative feedback during performance appraisals. Offering negative feedback upward, to one’s boss, is even more challenging – and that’s why it rarely occurs. There’s no way to make negative feedback fun for either the bearer or the recipient.

The best leaders learn how to deliver bad news kindly so people don’t get unnecessarily hurt. It’s certainly not easy, unless practice opportunities are provided. Training and practice can help people learn to deliver constructive feedback.

5.  Diversify Information Sources

Journalists and anthropologists know that if you want to truly understand a culture, you must talk to a variety of sources who have distinct biases. Everyone’s biased – no exceptions! – and everyone has an opinion. Communicate regularly with different groups of colleagues, workers, customers and even competitors to gain a nuanced and multifaceted understanding of others’ perceptions.

6.  Admit Mistakes

Candor is contagious. When you admit your shortcomings or errors, it paves the way for others to do the same. Simple admissions can disarm critics and encourage others to be transparent, as well.

7.  Build Organizational Support for Transparency

Protect whistle-blowers – but don’t stop there. Other norms and sanctions should encourage truth-telling, including open-door policies, ethics training and internal blogs that give a voice to people lower down in the hierarchy.

Executives are more often selected for their success in competing against their peers than for their demonstrated teamwork. Thus, they’re not commonly willing to listen to contrarians or to share information freely. This requires a different mindset.

Are you working in a company or law firm where leadership creates an environment of trust and transparency?  Does your company or law firm provide leadership coaching and leadership development to help leadership develop open communication and trust? Leaders need to model openness for followers to fully engage.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Do I lead by being transparent and trusting others?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching and leadership development for leaders who want to become more transparent in their communications thereby developing trust.

Working with a seasoned executive coach trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating leadership assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-i and CPI 260 can help you become more open and transparent increasing the level of trust in your organization. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision and mission of your company or law firm.


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