The Importance of Being a Transparent Leader

In terms of leadership, it doesn’t really matter what industry a business is in or what the business sells. These things are important for a leader to understand of course, but essentially, a leader is in the people business.


It’s the role of the leader to ensure that within their business they have the right people doing the right things. And whilst systems and processes are critical (along with strategy and structure), ‘people effectiveness’ or culture is everything.

So if leaders are to prioritise people and culture, what should they focus on?

In my experience, leaders should be as transparent as possible. Transparency, in the context of leadership, is the degree of openness and honesty that is shared in decision making so that open communication becomes the norm; the culture.

Being transparent enables the leader’s behaviour to be understood. This understanding creates acceptance which leads to more effective relationships being formed because they are based on trust.

This is because transparency lowers the waterline. Confused? Let me back up a little.

A common metaphor used to help explain behaviours and more significantly, what drives behaviour is the humble iceberg which was adapted from the work on culture by Selfridge and Sokolik (1975) and W.L French and C.H. Bell (1979).

The model says that we (let’s say leaders) are like icebergs. Their behaviour is what we can all see; it is above the waterline. However, below the waterline, and what we can’t see are all the things that drive that behaviour. Things like values, beliefs and thoughts; which can be directly influenced by mood, health and stress.

And just like an iceberg, “it can take only a slight shift below the surface to have an immediate impact on behaviour above the surface.” (Chad Renando; ‘Icebergs and Goal Setting Behaviour: Does Achievement Define your self-worth’.)

I find that I connect more effectively with my teams and have better relationships by actively trying to lower the waterline. I try to explain my behaviour and my decision making by sharing the relevant ‘personal data’ that led me to that decision or behaviour. Most of the time, Im simply sharing my values as this absolutely defines by beliefs which shapes my behaviour. And by being transparent and sharing my values around my decisions and behaviours, I create a platform for other leaders to do the same which creates (ultimately) a more relevant, ‘values-aligned’ culture.

It is understandably easier for leaders to be transparent during good times, in times of certainty and positivity. However, great leaders rise during challenging times, during uncertainty, negativity and crisis. Especially during a crisis, transparency should be ‘job one’ according to Amy C Edmondson; “Don’t Hide Behind Bad News in Times of Crisis” who explains leaders should ‘be clear [of] what you know, what you don’t know and what you’re doing to learn more.’

During this current time of uncertainty following the Covid – 19 threat, I encourage all leaders to think about how they can more effectively be transparent simply by taking the time to be more open and honest. And I encourage emerging leaders to ask their leaders ‘why’ a certain decision was made.

Having open, honest and respectful dialogue is the key to transparency. And if it starts from the top down it can help ensure a better culture. And that is most certainly a critical key performance indicator for any leader.