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Leaders, face your fears! Learn how to be transparent and authentic

Editor’s note: This weekly column by Triangle veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson offers real-time, easily digestible leadership actions you can take to build a better workplace, become a more productive, future-ready leader, and improve your leadership effectiveness today. Stay tuned to WRAL TechWire every Wednesday for the next edition, as lessons build on each other. Most recently, we talked Reversing toxic cultures.


Research Triangle Park – Transparency is a crucial part of being a business leader ready for the future, as the epidemic shift to remote and hybrid workplaces has proven over the past two years. Leaders and organizations with poor communication practices have openly suffered, lost valuable employees, struggled to recruit quality candidates, and are often labeled as toxic places to work.

Today, every leader I know will tell you the importance of clear and consistent communication, and that most have invested in teams and protocols that improve transparency. Yet for many of us who grew up under old school, command and control style leadership, transparency is downright scary.

For many of us, being taught to be professional means to be confident and bright, and to present ourselves as always in order to be seen as worthy and competent. By being flawless, we can inspire the confidence of our teams in our leadership abilities. But transparency calls for a completely different kind of professional behavior in the workplace.

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

Modern leadership requires credibility, vulnerability and humility. Now, we must confess what we do not know, admit when we are wrong, and speak for ourselves not only as executives but as a whole. We were once taught not to admit our mistakes, because we are now seen as weak, but we are now encouraged to openly apologize as a sign of strength. That could be a terrible change.

Here is the most important piece I want you to know. If you’re in leadership, it doesn’t really matter how you feel about transparency. Whether you are afraid of it, annoyed, or desperate to think that you have to share your personal feelings at work, your employees want transparency from their leaders, so it’s best that you get on board. It’s not just about preparing for the future. This is a new way of doing business.

At the granular level, two ways to improve your leadership impact through better communication are by following my Four rules for best delegation And Best Practices for Professional Development Conversations. At the corporate level, here are four ways you can improve transparency and communication, leading to greater productivity, engagement, ethics, culture and results.

Don’t underestimate the power of a simple round-up email to your team. Even in the months when you think you have nothing important to say, I can guarantee that they will still want to hear from you. Remember, this doesn’t have to be any fancy. A bullet list is sometimes enough.

A good practice is to keep a running record of notes on the things you want to solve, which means sharing resources for different cultural holidays. A proud month And FriendshipTalk about your own professional development, reiterate important upcoming deadlines, or simply share a personal story from a networking conversation you enjoyed.

Stories are a terrific way to build your personal brand as a leader for your company’s mission, vision and values, so think about what you want to tell through that lens. For example, in my own organization where flexibility and curiosity are core values, I can tell a story about an employee who is flexible and curious at a particular meeting and holds them as a model of inclusive leadership behavior. Or, I can highlight what I’ve learned from friends who remind me why flexibility is important for good business and good teamwork.

The other two practices I recommend are to block those paragraphs every Monday or Friday for half an hour and record yourself through Zoom or Google Meet, then share video and audio files with your team. A quick, three-minute, off-the-cuff video takes up a lot of your time, requires far less from your employees, and can create a stronger sense of connection, especially in large organizations and entire remote teams.

Do not over-communicate frequently if you know that you are more likely to abandon the habit in a few months. First, no matter how much your team loves you, I bet they don’t want to hear from you every week. And secondly, remember that consistency is important. Pick a regular communication timeline that you know you can be 100% sure of, and then stick to it.

Knowing when and how they hear from you helps employees stay safe and included. When you send emails and video messages incorrectly, they are more likely to be intrusive and / or critical. But when communication is reliable and expected, employees know to make it part of their workflow and the things you have to say don’t feel too personal, destructive or reactionary.

Predictable, repetitive communication gives you the opportunity to reiterate important messages, such as behavioral expectations, because people need to hear the same thing several times before they absorb it (and many more times before they can integrate it into their normal workflow).

Transparency improves morale and productivity because employees love to hear from their bosses, but every communication gives them an open opportunity to ask questions, give feedback and contribute their ideas. Take advantage of those opportunities. Use every external communication as an opportunity to solicit feedback. By doing so, you create a cycle of communication that inspires trust and teamwork.

My advice is to end your message with clear instructions on how and when you want employees to respond, what questions they should ask or answer, and then how they can ask you. For example, if you are sending a five-minute vlog, “Here’s how I want you Improve your productivity by better prioritizing This week, you can send a video attached to a short email saying, “I want everyone to watch this video and respond by the end of Friday.”

Then, here’s the key. You need to follow through. Otherwise, you are having a one-way conversation, not a real conversation. By taking action after that initial communication, you prove to employees that you have actually read what they sent, and that transparency and feedback go both ways.

Sometimes, you will need to send individual responses, but more often than not, you can send the same response to the group. I like that you are looking to the future to prioritize what is important, not just an emergency.

Despite their success, many truly great leaders in my network still feel uncomfortable talking to their teams in their own voice. The biggest advice I can give here is simple hope. Your team wants to hear from you as a human being, not as a starchy, hardened corporate spokesperson. They want to know how you are thinking about things, what’s on your mind at the moment, what’s ahead and how they can contribute to success. Transparency is hard because vulnerability is scary, but I promise it is okay to be yourself.

Of course, you want to be kind, compassionate and humble, but you should not feel that you need perfect grammar or a full vocabulary of three-syllables to speak to your team with purpose and energy. Make sure you do the work Learn about the language of inclusive work, And remember that short, consistent messages are always better than long speeches. If not, be yourself.

Accept what you don’t know. Commit to continued learning. Be vulnerable, be prepared to learn and be helpful when you can. The contractions are okay. The imperfect phrase is right. And it’s also okay to stumble through your thoughts. Those things only emphasize that you are human.

By modeling transparency and vulnerability, you create mental security and trust, which leads to better business outcomes. In that way, transparency works to create a more prosperous and dynamic workplace culture where people feel valued, included, and encouraged to contribute consistently to their best work.

About the author

Donald Thompson is co-founder and CEO Diversity Movement Offers an employee-experience product suite that personalizes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through data, technology and expert-curated content. His microlorning platform, Microvideo from the Diversity MovementRecently Fast Company “2022 World Changing IdeasWith over two decades of experience and growth with leading organizations, Donald is a thought leader in goal achievement, influencing company culture and driving exponential growth. He also serves on the board of several organizations in health, banking, technology and sports. Underrated: The unlikely path to CEO success, Is now available for pre-order. Connect with him or follow him LinkedIn Learn more.

More by Donald Thompson:

Donald Thompson: I learned about NC Small Business by Sheryl Sandberg

Striving for true inclusion: Rainbow flags, cultural months are not enough

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