Updated: Apr 4, 2020
In Lesson Three of an on-demand video training I created for curious.com back in 2014 about actualizing mindfulness-centered Work + Life success, I offered what I believe are three foundational "being" qualities that help cultivate authentic success in all the "doing" areas of our life. The first is quality I believe stands far above all others is Humility, followed closely behind by Transparency.
Individual transparency allows us to stand tall because we consciously choose to live with integrity in all our actions. Transparency means being straightforward and honest in how you represent yourself at all times - in all situations and interactions, reflecting congruence between your espoused beliefs and your actions, and is often referred to as "walking your talk."
The same holds for the espoused values of a business or organization of any size, and whether their actions line up with what is publicly stated - especially when it is facing difficult challenges. When pressure increases, so do the odds of engaging in unethical decision-making and accompanying behaviors.
The Blue Jay and the Peacock
Whenever I am facilitating a workshop or training, I like to offer a simple fable or parable to illustrate the basic concepts of each lesson, and for this blog post I'll share this quick story:
A Blue Jay ventured into a yard where Peacocks liked to walk, and found there a number of feathers which had fallen from the Peacocks when they were molting.
He tied them all to his tail and strutted down toward a group of Peacocks.
When he came near them they soon discovered the cheat, and striding up to him pecked at him and plucked away his borrowed plumes.
The Jay could do no better than go back to the other Jays, who had watched his behavior from a distance; but they were equally annoyed with him as he was not being his authentic self, and they told him:
"It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds."
How likeable are YOU?
"In a study conducted at UCLA, subjects rated over 500 adjectives based on their perceived significance to likeability. The top-rated adjectives had nothing to do with being gregarious, intelligent, or attractive (innate characteristics). Instead, the top adjectives were sincerity, transparency, and capacity for understanding (another person)."
Transparency facilitates sincerity and trust. Trust is paramount for both individuals and organizations to function, grow and prosper, fostering success along the way. Lack of transparency causes doubt, introduces fear and destroys trust.
Customers want to give their business to transparent companies, and great talent wants to work for transparent companies. For organizations to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, leaders must learn how to build an authentic culture of trust and openness, in every sphere of influence he or she has: at work, home, school, community, socially, etc.
In business, the moment your entire workforce on every level embraces transparency is the moment you gain an advantage over individuals and companies that haven’t – and that advantage is demonstrating integrity internally and externally regardless of whether you are "number one" or whether you win or lose.
In the absence of transparency, people will make up their own version of the truth. This leads to gossip, rumors, and misinformation that will often result in people questioning your integrity.
"A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity." - the Dalai Lama
Marc Effron consults leaders in global corporations, and he often deals with executives' fear that if employees know the whole truth about the company, individual employees' potential to advance with it, and how the company is actually run, employee engagement will suffer.
Effron's response is straightforward: "Here's the fundamental question: How long do you feel it's appropriate to lie to your employees about their future?" The power of transparency is that it drives us to be better people who insist upon it all areas of our life, including who we work for or how we will run our own company – and certainly as we lead by our example.
I would add that every organization needs to ask, "How long do you feel it's appropriate to lie to any of your stakeholders?" Justifying lying for any reason is digging your own grave. because nowadays it's only a matter of time before you get caught - and Reputational Risk Management is not just a "cleanup on aisle three" PR spin problem - even though its often approached like one.
Reputational Risk Awareness requires honest Self-Awareness
In addition to being more self-aware, balanced and congruent in one’s goals, motives, values, identities and emotions, those who want to attain authentic success are also transparent in being and living one’s authentic self, which thereby builds trust and intimacy, fosters teamwork and cooperation (Gardner et al., 2005) and feelings of stability and predictability (Chan et al., 2005). Furthermore, relational transparency requires the willingness to look yourself in the mirror and be open for inspection and feedback as you have nothing to hide (Popper and Lipshitz, 2000). When people are entrusted with all the necessary information to make intelligent decisions, they are compelled to act responsibly and a culture of accountability can be maintained.
Conscious workplace cultures are marked by their above-board authenticity and fairness. All human beings have a strong desire and need to be heard, respected, valued and treated fairly. Research demonstrates over and over that people would rather have a fair and transparent process for making decisions (even if it leads to an unfavorable outcome for them personally) versus an unfair process that fulfills their wishes once in a while.
If leaders want to be trusted, they must show trust in return. Leaders must be able to trust their people to use their best judgment rather than trying to control them with too many rules and regulations. Data repeatedly demonstrates that the performance of team members is strongly aligned with the degree to which they are trusted by leadership.
"Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony." - Gandhi
Transparent leaders are real, honest and demonstrate genuine respect and concern for others. There are no hidden agendas. Information is shared openly, yet appropriately. When someone is genuinely mindful and takes completely ownership for his or her impact upon others, he or she genuinely reflects sincerity, truthfulness, real vulnerability, grace, humility, and composure under pressure.
The reason most leaders are not transparent is because they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative; that the credentials they worked so hard to attain will lose their power, leverage and dignity. Conscious, high-trust organizations determine what is an appropriate balance for their leadership, employees and the patients being served. The value of being authentic and transparent needs to be incorporated into all business practices, from hiring to product development, from top to bottom.
Which wolf are you feeding? The same goes for individuals in all areas, because it's critical to always be aware that every single one of us leads by the example we extend in whatever sphere of influence we find ourselves in, at any given moment - and there are no unimportant situations, interactions or moments.
The question I constantly ask my readers, students and clients is, "What example are you leading by?" When we live with transparency, our actions are congruent with our beliefs 100% of the time. The test of true transparency is being consistent and not compromising our integrity, especially when we think no one is looking.
If any part of you feels resistance to being transparent, it is time to revisit the on-going self-inquiry as to which wolf you are feeding in any given situation, because as you can guess, someone who is not transparent is not feeding the good wolf within at that moment. There may be times when acting transparently with your beliefs will not be the popular choice, and when it will mean taking risks with which others will not agree.
Being Congruent with Yourself
"Being congruent is not only something that anyone can do, it is something everyone must do." Komives & Wagner, Leadership for a Better World
Be authentic. Someone who is not transparent acts as they believe others expect them to act rather than being true to who they are. Transparency is an alignment of values with behavior, or as I said earlier, aka "walking your talk" no matter if anyone is looking - or not. And yes, your values can make you act like an authentic jerk - but I wouldn't brag about it or defend your behavior as being transparent. It's not going to win you points with people of integrity.
Speak the truth, respectfully. Tell the truth, as best as you know it. Authenticity doesn’t mean total disclosure. If you don't know the answer, let people know you will research the question. If you do know the answer, but aren’t able to disclose it, say so and promise an answer as soon as possible.
Be willing to look at yourself openly and honestly.
Acknowledge and own your entire history (including the challenges you've faced, no matter how difficult) and the stories you continue to tell about yourself – to others and yourself.
In each moment, be honest about what you are thinking and feeling,especially if it is sourced in the ego, and vow to do what you can to disconnect from it.
Keep your agreements, promises and commitments. Consistently following
through (by doing what you say or providing updates) builds trust naturally.
Handle mistakes well: Own up to them quickly and take action to correct them
When we are transparent, there is no more hiding from ourself.
Without transparency, we will continue to delude ourselves, stay stuck, or wounded.
In the Workplace
"A transparent organization will attract the best and retain the best. An opaque organization will continually deal with high turnover or a disgruntled workforce." - Richard W. Oliver
Seek out transparent and authentic workers. Hire and retain employees who continuously display the attributes and virtues of honorable transparency and authenticity in all that they do.
Tell the truth. “If you start to think, ‘How can I spin this so I or the company won't look bad?"’ Just be real and honest. Depending on the situation, go to your employees, clients and customers and ask, ‘What have I or we done to lose your trust?’ Then get rid of the people who engaged in those actions (or quit, if it was you) and move forward.
Own up to mistakes. It’s not just team members; everyone appreciates someone who can admit a mistake. The act of owning up to a wrong turn or bungled attempt demonstrates humility and a genuine desire to do the right thing. The more your team members see you leading authentically an owning mistakes (although hopefully not too often), the more likely they will be to do the same when an environment of trust is established.
Be transparent between inner and outer self. No pretenses, no fancy peacock feathers to give you a false appearance. Take steps to ensure you aren’t lying to yourself. Pretending to be someone or something you are not will ultimately take its toll; both on you, those around you, and everyone you life touches. Make a conscious examination of your values, vision, mission and purpose, then align those elements with your daily life – at work, at home, school, socially – wherever you find yourself.
Seek out feedback. Feedback should not be solely given by the leaders and managers of a company. Feedback is an opportunity for dialogue and learning. Team members have valuable perspectives and views and should be welcome to contribute his or her ideas and concerns as to how things can be improved. Don't be defensive, listen attentively, let go of judgment, ask for questions and examples, and thank them for their input. Appreciate the courage it can takes others (especially those whose jobs, positions, and wages depend on your view of them) to be frank with you.
Give employees access to information. Ask people what they’d like to know and set up systems for getting them that information. It is usually not appropriate to divulge all information without discernment. You don’t need to tell everyone everything, but never lie. Offer phrases like, “I’m not at liberty to discuss that, but what I can tell you is _____” People will respect both your candor and discretion regarding privileged information. Don’t gloss over bad news to make it sound better, and don’t downplay or omit good news.
Instill and drive the values of the company. All companies have purpose, but if you quiz your employees, how many would actually know what stand for? Owners, executives and managers need to know and embody the core values and missions of the company, and reflect them transparently. If they don't agree with them, they are better off working elsewhere.
Respond positively to honesty. When other people tell truths (even if they’re truths you don’t want to hear), thank them – and publicly give them credit in a way that their actions will be perceived as valuable.
Never, ever break a promise, agreement or commitment, even an “implied" one. If you do, you’ll immediately begin being perceived as inauthentic. Never offer excuses, justifications or half-truths. Own your actions and behaviors and lead by transparent example to empower those around you do the same.
Apologize with sincerity. From poor decision-making to ethical lapses to coping with stress through outsized self-indulgent behavior, opportunities for all types of fails abound. When “caught,” the knee-jerk reaction is to apologize. The problem -- most mea culpa attempts lack follow-through, making a mere apology largely ineffective or even counterproductive if it isn’t accompanied by evidence of policy or perceivable change in behavior now and in the future. apology or amends is worthless without evidence of behavior change. To please the cynics a key to effective communication is: Show, don’t tell.
Choose your words wisely when handling mistakes. Always discuss issues in private and be upbeat about problem, yet speak with candor and strength - not malice.
Listen – to yourself and to others. Learning to listen can be daunting, since we often don’t listen to our own instincts or take time to carefully listen to others. Yet, listening is a critical, non-negotiable skill for building trust.
Continuously build trust. Do what you say (credibility), treat people with dignity (respect) and treat everyone in an even-handed way (fairness). As stated in the beginning of today's lesson. trust and transparency go hand in hand. If no one is speaking up or saying anything negative, it’s not because you’re doing a good job; it’s probably because they’re too scared to speak up. Create a Psychologically Safe environment where people can freely express their opinions and observations – again at work, home, school, and socially. If you are transparent, especially during challenging times, you actually strengthen your leadership as people begin to trust you as person and thus will respect you more as a conscious leader.
This post was adapted from Lesson Three of Suzanne's "Mindfulness Skills for Work/Life Success" training created in 2014, originally licensed to and offered by curious.com.
© 2014, 2020, Suzanne Matthiessen, innerevolution media. All rights reserved.