The Boomer Guide to Transparent Leadership. Do you know the line between Transparency and TMI?
In British Columbia, Canada there’s a city called Burnaby where mayoral hopeful wanted to kiss public displays of affection goodbye. Sylvia Gung was running for major in the fall 2014 Mayoral elections on campaign promises of “banning behaviours that hints sex/sexuality, even including Bridal Kiss and walking hand in hand…” behaviour that she said; hurt public decorum.
Do you want to guess what generation Sylvia belongs to? Here’s a clue; it certainly isn’t generation Y (Millennial)! Just to be clear, Sylvia Gung didn’t become Mayor! Why? Her campaign was based on her own preferences/beliefs, and therefore she hadn’t consider that for those who would vote her “issue” was Not theirs. Bottom line when we don’t fully consider and understand those we serve we end up not serving them.
It appears that Boomer (and GenX’er) Bosses Need Guide to Transparent Leadership…
As 10,000 Baby Boomers a day exit the work force, today’s leaders are facing a massive influx of Millennials who are calling for their leaders to be both transparent and vulnerable. This is all well and good except that what is considered transparent and vulnerable to a Millennial can feel a lot like TOO MUCH INFORMATION, especially to leaders from an older generation.
A case in point: When Tim Cooke, the CEO of Apple, recently revealed that he was gay, the announcement made the news, but in a sort of “Yeah, that’s cool,” way. Not in an “OMG!!!” way. Millennials took his revelation as his being open and vulnerable about a part of his life that didn’t need to be kept secret anyway. It increased their level of trust in him.
Contrast that with Mitt Romney in the last US Presidential election. He believed that no one had any right to know how much he paid in taxes and refused to release his tax statements. Now, you can argue that he was right—that such information doesn’t need to be made public—but the fact he was utterly unwilling to reveal it didn’t make his case for effective leadership. On the contrary, it made him appear to be secretive, manipulative, and deceitful—qualities Millennials despise in their leaders, and we know who Millennials voted for.
But the irony of it is that a Boomer boss is likely to see any and all Transparency as TMI. In other words, Tim Cooke Coming Out…great for Millennials (who he leads). Freaky for Boomers, who grew up with a doctrine of you don’t air dirty laundry in public.
The Boomer Guide to Transparent Leadership
Now you are probably wondering, how can Boomer leaders know if what they are revealing (or at least considering) is the sort of information that shows them as stepping into transparent leadership or if it’s just TMI? (And there is such a thing as Too Much Information, even for Millennials.)
Simply stated, there are no hard and fast rules, but one guideline is that the big picture is more important than the details. Here’s what I mean, and not to be crass, when the CEO of Apple revealed that he was gay, that was enough for most Millennials. They didn’t need—or even want—to know how many partners he has had or the details of his sex life.
If Mitt Romney had wanted to gain points with Millennials, he could have released the amount he paid in taxes as a percentage of his income. In truth he probably wouldn’t have had to release every single line item.
Here’s the rub: As soon as Millennials get a whiff that a leader might be trying to hide something, they will want more and more details. Once they sense an attempt at evasion, no amount of details will be enough, and they will relentlessly dig.
The key to successful transparent leadership; be proactive about the information you share and most important—if you are asked a direct question, give a direct and honest answer—no matter how personally painful, and against your generational conditioning it might feel.
It’s a cliché I know, but honesty really is the best policy—especially when one of your goals is to be a leader whose people are Fiercely Loyal.
Look, if you are in a leadership position there’s a good chance that you are at least a reasonably start cookie, so it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the most important thing to remember is that transparent leadership is about YOU! It’s about who you are, what you believe, what you have done.
That being said, a vitally important final point about transparency: The line that cannot be crossed is when the information is about someone else.
Many like to tell themselves (and others) that gossiping is just being transparent…It’s Not! It will, at best, lose you any loyalty you have garnered, and at worse have you removed from your position, and in a likelihood in a very expensive legal stranglehold. Therefore, if you find yourself tempted to reveal details about someone else, stop right now. You’ll come across as being petty and mean-spirited, instead of transparent and open—and believe me, that’s the last thing you want if you are going to lead Millennials.
I trust that you found this article valuable, if so, feel free to send this to your friends. I eagerly anticipate your feedback and comments.
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Dov Baron Speaks internationally and is The Leading Authority on Authentic Leadership on leadership in the new economy.
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