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A Fresh Take on Leadership Transparency

Great leaders are transparent.

Statements like this, or any others involving the words leader and transparent, have become so common or in vogue by those who write or speak about leadership (in other words, people like me) as to be cliché, and transparency in this context is now seen as a buzzword.

As is usually the case with cliché’s. there is truth there, but it has been lost through overuse and familiarity.  I’ve written in the past about , but today I want to take us past the word to some practical application.

Here is the underlying truth: as you lead, your people are watching you.  They wonder what you know, who you are, and what you stand for.  And because they are human beings, when they don’t have answers to those questions from your words, they take your actions and fill in the blanks to create their own answers.  When we are transparent, the guessing and mental filling-in-the-blanks isn’t needed, and people will be less stressed and more productive too.

I hope that this will help you pull the idea of leadership transparency out of the buzzword dump-heap and make it a practical part of your leadership habits.


I know, this is a bit of a buzzword too, but it is too important to ignore.  If you want to be a more transparent leader, let your team know some of your foibles, fears, and frustrations.  Yes, there is a line here, because your team wants to be able to believe in you and your attitude will permeate theirs more rapidly than you might believe.  While you should believe your team can overcome adversity, there is nothing wrong with letting them know you are a bit worried too.

They don’t want (or need) Superman or the Bionic Woman; what they want is a leader who is human that they can believe in.


Everyone makes mistakes; but too many leaders try to hide theirs.  They feel like they are supposed to have the answers, and that their role precludes them from sharing their mistakes. This is a misguided and ineffective belief.

One way to be transparent is to share about your mistakes.

There is a big side benefit to this, too.  As you know, mistakes can be learning opportunities, but only if they are admitted and examined.  As a leader, you set the tone for these learning opportunities.  If you want others to learn from their mistakes, they must see you doing the same.

When you share your mistakes, you set a positive example that can help your team learn and grow.

Acknowledgement of Weaknesses

Well, you have weaknesses, right?

Have you ever had a boss who acted as if they could do it all?  And even if they believed it, everyone else knew otherwise, right?  And that attitude of superiority didn’t help them lead successfully, did it?

As a leader (and human being), you have strengths and weaknesses.  Why not share/admit/acknowledge some of your weaknesses with your team?  After all, they probably already know and will agree.  This means that you aren’t sharing something new as much as you are letting them see more about you from your perspective.  This builds trust and relationships, as well as setting an example for others to acknowledge their weaknesses too (I guarantee this will make coaching easier).

Open book?

Does this mean we need to be a completely open book to our teams, sharing our every thought and feeling?

Definitely not.

This worry is a major impediment to leaders being more transparent.  And because of that, too many leaders err on the side of not sharing.  Transparency as a leader is about finding the balance – but chances are you are being too cautious, and not doing enough of the things shared above.

If you take the advice in this article, you will be seen by your team as more transparent.  They may not use that word, and that is ok; what they will say is they are proud and pleased to follow you.


kevin eikenberryKevin Eikenberry is a world renowned leadership expert, a two-time bestselling author, speaker, consultant, trainer, coach, leader, learner, husband and father (not necessarily in that order). He is the Chief Potential Officer of , a leadership and learning consulting company that has been helping organizations, teams and individuals reach their potential since 1993. Kevin’s specialties include leadership, teams and teamwork, organizational culture, facilitating change, organizational learning and more.

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