Transparent Leadership


It seems that after the business world reeled from the debacles of the leaders of Enron and Tyco that splattered the pages of the Wall Street Journal, the rebound cry was for transparency in leadership.  Fast forward to now, when in response to the government secrecy of the last 8 years, the US has just elected Barack Obama, who ran a campaign largely heralding the need for and benefits of transparent leadership.  Regardless of your political ideology, if you are coaching in business these days, it’s hard to avoid the latest buzzwords of transparent leaders.

That gives coaches a tremendous and timely opportunity.  We can coach leaders for transparency.  We can also model transparency for our clients so that these leaders can step fully into their own style and substance in a meaningful and authentic way.  Authenticity is key to effective leadership, and transparency hinges on authenticity.

Why is transparent leadership important?  The assumption is that people who are led by an opaque leader, (one who masks either his authentic expression or hides information), have a keen ability (especially collectively) to detect inauthentic behavior.  This is especially true in difficult economic times where the stakes in decision-making run high.

5 Keys of Coaching for Transparency:

  1. This is a point of ethics and integrity.  You cannot coach for transparency unless you are yourself a transparent leader.
  2. You must have a working understanding of leadership transparency, which we define as openly sharing information, commitments, goals, objectives, and the journey to excellence (both successes and challenges). Transparent leaders seek and include the input of those who serve them, those who follow them, those who are peers, as well as those they follow and those they serve.
  3. A transparent leader will typically express a commitment to transparency. Thus, we must express our commitment to transparent coaching.
  4. Transparent coaching can be defined as openly expressing the purpose and rationale behind a particular coaching thread of questions, or a particular set of coaching practices.
  5. Modeling transparency for our clients does not mean driving our own agenda of making them into transparent leaders if that is not their own commitment or agenda.
There is a great article written in the Fall 2008 issue of Leader to Leader where authors Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman and Patricia Ward Biederman discuss more about transparent leadership and how to create a transparent culture in your organization.

Comments (6)

Might suggest you add web transparency , too.
Too often, when you visit a business web site or blog, you’ll find very little information about who these people are and why they are in business. This may be a particular problem with blogs, but it’s equally true of business web sites.
Transparency on your web site or blog means that you let your readers (listen up, bloggers and web site designers) know who you are, what you stand for, who is backing you, who is fronting for you and how we can easily communicate with you.
Suzi, you get an A for your including your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, Twitter address, phone and other contact information. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t practice that kind of web transparency.

Great point, Michael! Thanks for taking this to the next level. I think when we start to become observers of transparency, we can see opportunities for it everywhere. I’ve noticed that Obama and his teams have been really open and inclusive, seeking feedback and input and making nearly everything visible as you can see on their website ( and as a student of leadership, I find these to be exciting and powerful times we live in!

A friend of mine spent years studying leadership to find the essentials. He found one constant in both successful and failed leaders.
Those who failed set up their relationships to exclude anyone who was at their “level”. Those who were successful made sure they had true peers in their lives who could regularly look in their eyes and ask hard questions and call B/S when they saw it. And those successful leaders listened.
Do I have someone who can call B/S on my life? Will I listen? Real transparency goes beyond the disclosure of information to the willingness to take input and be different afterwards.

Amen to that, Chuck! Great insights! It really is all about relationship asset management. Listening is an integral part of that, and I like what you said about the willingness to be different as a result of having truly heard the contributions of others. Leaders who do that have rare talent indeed. 🙂

There’s a lot of good that can come from building transparency (in what you do as a leader) into your organization/the culture. It is definitely important to be clear about rules of engagement (internally and externally), what makes a successful professional (i.e. behaviors, attributes, work styles, etc.) for the organization and how people will be rewarded. The first two in particular are easy – its the third one that appears easy and gets overlooked because it is assumed to be a no-brainer BUT I have yet to see an organization or leader within one that is willing to have an honest, open, and true dialog about all of the things that get a successful professional rewarded. Every organization can list ad nauseum all of the functional ways the employee is expected to act, do, deliver, etc. But, I’ve never seen a leader be completely open and honest (Transparent) about the intangibles that leaders and teams of leaders assess, look at and consider when deciding who is more successful (or at least who has a promising future) versus others. When I say “intangibles”, I mean everything that makes human resources and legal teams sweat – the soft stuff like, he’s really easy to work with, she always makes herself indispensible, he always shows up for client meetings looking like a slob, she never washes her hands before she leaves the rest room, he always orders the most expensive thing on the menu when the client pays….and the list goes on and on. These aren’t written anywhere and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a manager willing to address these issues, especially as the professional underneath them get to be more and more senior. The leader never really delivers open, honest feedback – and the professional never gets what they need to evolve. This lack of transparency is rampant in business today – and until leaders are wiling to deal with these unspoken barriers to success, professionals and the organizations in which they work will be limited.

You are so right, Kevin! In fact, there was a recent article about transparency and culture written by Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, and Patricia Ward Biederman in a recent issue of Leader to Leader that states “claiming to be transparent is not the same as actually being transparent. Even as many heads of corporations and even of states boast about their commitment to transparency, the containment of truth continues to be a dearly held value of many organizations.” (

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