Leadership Transparency Vs. Exposed Leadership…Do you know the difference? As leaders we are facing a crisis because, unless you’ve been living in your mom’s basement for the last decade or so, you will know that there’s a massively growing distrust of anyone in a leadership position. Nowhere is this more obvious than in government.
According to a recent Gallup Poll on American’s Confidence in Economic Leaders, 45% said they had “only a little/ almost no confidence” in state governors, and 57% said the same thing about President Obama. Other leaders fared even worst: 61% of poll respondents said they had little or no confidence in Democratic leaders, and 71% said they had little or no confidence in Republican leaders.
It seems a majority of people no longer trust the government and, in fact, often assume the government is flat-out lying about everything, basically there is a clear lack of leadership transparency.
I address some of the reasons why this climate of distrust has developed in my upcoming book Fiercely Loyal, but for now I’d like to look at an unrecognized side effect of this distrust—massive nostalgia for the “good old days when there were real leaders.”
Now depending on your politics, this might be the Reagan era (maybe even one of the Bush eras!), or perhaps for you JFK or FDR, and for some you, you’ll have to go all the way back to Lincoln. Whatever time period you choose, it likely feels to you that leaders then were more honest, more trust-worthy, and more reliable than they are today. “The good old days!”
To that I call—Bull!
Come on people, just stop even for a moment and give your head a shake. In case you hadn’t noticed: politicians have been politicians since the beginning of time.
So what’s the difference between then and now?
Well, to explain, I need to talk a bit about leadership transparency. Transparency means that the leader is open rather than covert, seen as not having secrets, is congruent in his or her speech and actions. Transparency naturally facilitates trust. Today’s leaders are all too often blatantly non-transparent, attempting to conceal and hide their true agendas. The good news (or bad news depending on what side of the fence you sit) is that we live in the age of the Internet, and it doesn’t take long for any of those cover-ups to be exposed.
Now let’s go back in to our nostalgic bubble of the “good old days. “Truth be told there were just as many cover-ups and just as little transparency back then, but because information could be more tightly controlled, (there was no Internet) leaders could create the illusion of transparency, knowing that their secrets weren’t going to be exposed.
Just think about it for a moment and you will see the truth of what I’m saying: Do you think for one minute that FDR could be elected to one term, much less four, if the extent of his handicap due to polio was widely known? Or if it were known that he and Eleanor had an “arrangement,” not a marriage? Or that he had a mistress with him most of the time?
Do you think that JFK could have been elected with his life long health issues or his wandering eye (and hands)? Or that Lincoln, with a history of deep, despairing depression could have passed today’s expose’ culture?
You got it: In a word… No!
As much as we love to fantasize about what it was like “back in the day,” the truth is that leaders in the past weren’t any more transparent, thus they were no more deserving of our trust than they are today. However, the fundamental difference was that their lack of trustworthiness wasn’t exposed, so the vast majority of people never had any reason to doubt them.
Exposure Vs. Transparency
That being said let’s make no mistake—being exposed isn’t the same as being transparent, there is a vast difference!
When a leader is transparent, (before exposure) their faults and failures are freely admitted and from that comes a shared vulnerability which in turn leads to trust.
On the other hand, when a leader is exposed, their faults and failures are magnified and as a result any trust they might have garnered evaporates faster than a snowball in hell.
Take the former presidential candidate Mitt Romney for example. If he had been completely transparent and said publicly that he believed nearly half of Americans (the 47%) are drains on the system, he still would have received criticism, but the outrage wouldn’t have been complicated by what seemed to be a covert, hidden agenda, revealed only to a select few.
When his statement was exposed through the Internet, the hue and cry was as much about the secretive elitism of his position as it was about his position itself. He was exposed—and lost every hope of becoming transparent.
The bottom line is that because leaders can no longer prevent being exposed, they must learn how to be transparent. If they don’t, they are going to be exposed. And exposure means an even greater lack of trust.
As a leader today you are operating in a social media exposing business environment. So what can you do so that you don’t fall victim to the loss of trust and the scandals that come from being exposed?
The answer, as you have likely guessed is get out in front of whatever “they” might say about you.
Look you and I both know–we all have skeletons in our closets. Reveal them before someone else has a chance to.
While you are thinking about that, and before your mind runs off in some negative fantasy, let me walk you through what’s likely to happen when you first embrace Leadership Transparency.
A) Some folks will say, “Ha, I knew it.” These are the folks who are committed to being right. Here’s a news flash–they were never on your side. They are the people who were looking for a reason to mistrust you. Here’s another news flash–the reason may have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with their own psychological make up.
B) Some folks will be temporarily a bit pissed off/disappointed, but they will get over it because they are smart enough to evaluate you on your abilities and their own experience of you.
C) Others will see themselves in you. They will appreciate your humanity in being upfront; they will have compassion, and they will (sometimes silently) salute your courage.
All in all, the result will be that you will have shed the hangers on, those who had no real loyalty to you anyways. However, you will have also secured the loyalty of those who were in already in your camp and just as importantly, those who were the fence sitters.
As a leader you know you must not only have the trust of those you lead but you also must be able to trust them.
Transparency is golden because it gets people off the fence!
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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