Can a Leader Be Too Transparent?

This question has been asked in many of my leadership programs and coaching sessions across every industry. On one hand, leaders are eager to create a culture of openness and trust, where everyone in the workplace feels accurate and complete information is being shared. Leaders value their team members’ feedback about the issues being faced so the more detail they offer, the better the responses. On the other hand, they can run into the challenge of how much is enough to communicate without compromising data that needs to remain private.

One leader I worked with was so fearful of telling her team that a customer was very upset about the direction their project was moving, that she only told them a small detail. That resulted in her team becoming very angry when they found out the full picture of what was happening.

Now some of you may be saying it is critical to be totally honest with our colleagues and teams. That is absolutely true as long as all the facts are available, and nothing is being compromised with the release of all the data.

Here are six questions to answer in deciding how transparent a leader should be:

1. What Does The Big Picture Look Like?

Let’s say you want to share an update with your team about the progress on a project. Prior to blasting out where you are at the moment, it may be helpful to think things through about the overall purpose of the assignment. Having a deep understanding of the goals for the organization, team and yourself will help frame your decision on what is and what isn’t essential to share.

2. Do I Have All The Facts?

This question has tripped up the best of leaders in attempting to be as transparent as possible. It’s not good enough to have a “general take” on what a situation is before explaining if things are running smoothly or at a roadblock. It’s imperative to have as many of the available facts as possible. Some impactful ways to collect the facts include:

  • Reflect on how much has been accomplished.
  • Analyze a missed target or deadline.
  • Delve into how the missteps happened and why.
  • Have clarity on what is happening and timeframes.

3. Who Might This Impact The Most?

Think ahead carefully about which colleagues, departments or customers may be affected by an announcement. Maybe even consider who is your target audience and create your update with them in mind. Sometimes it is not necessary to include everybody on the update but instead only a small group of individuals. Just be inclusive enough. If in doubt, widen your net of who needs to hear the update.

4. Could Releasing This Information Cause Harm?

Another consideration for leaders in choosing how to be transparent, is being clear if their message could possibly hurt someone. When we take the time to identify how a message might be interpreted, we will cut down on misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

  • If you think someone may be harmed by what you are sharing, consider speaking with them ahead of time.
  • Review the wording of an update and select ways that state things in neutral terms.
  • Be prepared for pushback.

5. What Collaborators Should I Consult?

Leading with transparency often involves brainstorming with others ahead of time. Collaborative leaders turn to their team members to help determine the best way to communicate an update. We all need a group of trusted advisors who have the best interests of the organization at heart. Use those colleagues to support you and empower them to be honest with you about their thoughts on your messaging.

6. Will There Be A Need For Follow-Up?

 Don’t forget this final step in seeing through a change or pivot. There are many different forms of follow-up that may depend on your audience. Just make sure that the update shared is not just hanging out there to wither. Consider:

  • Making follow-up face-to-face meetings, phone calls, emails or virtual sessions.
  • Asking your trusted advisors to be on the lookout for negative feedback.
  • An update a week or two later with more information.
  • Thanking everyone for their patience and understanding.

What additional ways have helped you be a more transparent leader?

Related: Five Insights To Fortifying Our Hybrid Workplaces