Transparency is a critical leadership attribute. It helps to build trust, and it’s a prerequisite for building a constructive, high-performance culture. But it’s easy for leaders to get into trouble if they don’t understand the nuances of transparency. When is it critical to demonstrate full transparency? When is it more appropriate to offer no transparency at all? First-time leaders need to learn to make sound decisions about how much transparency is appropriate under a few different scenarios.

  • Transparency in reporting: While it’s important to not waste your boss’s time with irrelevant information, reporting upwards requires complete transparency. Giving the leaders above you the earliest opportunity to take corrective action is infinitely preferable to keeping them in the dark.
  • Information transparency: Confidential information should only be shared on a need-to-know basis. It’s simply not appropriate to be transparent with everyone about everything.
  • Transparency in values and behaviors: The main exception to the above rule is when it comes to questions of ethics. People need to know that you won’t overlook or ignore questionable conduct — at any level of the organization. Shine a light on things that aren’t right.
  • Transparency in decision-making: Limit your consultants on decisions to two key groups: those who have the expertise to contribute meaningfully to the solution and those who will have to live with the eventual outcomes. Many new leaders make the mistake of involving too many people in the name of inclusiveness. This both slows down the process down and undermines you as a leader.
  • Personal transparency: It’s important to maintain professional distance. Use the general rule: Be friendly, not friends. People should know who you are and what you stand for, but they don’t need to hear about your messy romantic breakup.

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