7 Steps to Transparent Leadership – Creating a Culture of Trust

Create a culture of trust

One of my CEO leadership coaching clients naturally has a very engaging and coaching leadership style. However, in this difficult economic climate, he made a strategic decision to be much more directive with 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 them through this tough 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 responsible for removing any obstacles that impeded employee performance. He inspired confidence by being open about his intent and answering any and all questions.

The CEO needed to emotionally engage his people without instilling any fear. The company culture needed to maintain its fun and playful environment where people could be optimally productive.

7 steps to transparency

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

1.Tell the truth

While this is the most obvious step, it is also fraught with nuance. Each of us has the urge to tell others what they want to hear. Instead, keep it simple and be honest. Leaders who are truthful and predictable tell everyone the same thing and 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 will not be made arbitrarily. When people are confident in this, they are more willing to take risks, go the extra mile, and help leaders achieve their 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 involves 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.

The way you frame the questions is paramount. If you don’t ask crucial questions of your people in a way that encourages openness and candor, you’ll never discover the truth.

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

3. Reward opponents

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

Your company will not innovate successfully if you refuse to acknowledge and challenge your own assumptions. Find colleagues who tend to oppose you, listen to them carefully and create the conditions to think differently. “Think outside the box” should have a pragmatic meaning, even if the catchphrase is overused.

4. Practice having unpleasant conversations.

Few people excel at delivering negative feedback during performance reviews. Giving negative feedback upwards to one’s boss is even more challenging, which is why it rarely happens. There is no way to make negative comments fun for either the bearer or the recipient.

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

5. Diversify information sources

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

6. Errors admitted

Candor is contagious. When you admit your flaws or mistakes, you pave 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 whistleblowers, but don’t stop there. Other rules and sanctions should encourage truth, including open-door policies, ethics training, and internal blogs that give lower-ranking people a voice.

Executives are selected more often for their success in competition against their peers than for their demonstrated teamwork. Therefore, they are often unwilling to listen to their opponents or 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 training and leadership development to help leadership develop open communication and trust? Leaders must model openness so that followers fully participate.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Do you lead by being transparent and trusting others?” Emotionally Intelligent and Socially Intelligent Organizations provide executive training and leadership development for leaders who want to become more transparent in their communications and thus build trust.

Working with an experienced executive coach trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating leadership assessments like the Bar-On EQ-i and CPI 260 can help you be more open and transparent, increasing the level of trust in your organization. He can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, inspiring people to fully commit to the vision and mission of his company or law firm.

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