A consulting colleague of mine continually uses the phrase “the higher you go, the more you show.” He has said this for many years, well before the term “transparency” became popular. CEO’s and politicians have especially become fond of using the word. They just aren’t fond of its definition. In a nutshell, it means living a life open to examination. There are two keys to transparency:
Pro-activity. Transparency does not mean admitting everything after you are caught. It is a willingness to live in the proverbial “glass house.” It is the identification of areas in the leader’s life and work where being open and willing to share, to invite examination and encourage an honest challenge are vital to the leader-follower relationship.
Accountability. Leaders must be accountable to those they lead. Why? Simply, followers are always at risk to some extent. If a leader is dishonest, the fallout will affect her followers. If a leader makes poor decisions, he can put the very livelihoods of his followers in jeopardy. The conventional thinking is that accountability is a one-way street. The reality is that the street signs are generally turned the wrong way.
Transparency has become a rhetorical word in today’s culture. The challenge for real leader is to make it a centerpiece of their culture, not another poster in the conference room.