In Part One of this six-part series, we explored trust in the context of organisations and in society generally, and how hard it can fee; sometimes, this is despite trust being at the heart of every relationship, whether in our personal lives or at work. Perhaps alarmingly, 82% of people say they don’t trust their boss to tell the truth, and 45% of employees say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting their work performance (Edelman Trust Barometer). In contrast, high trust organisations experience 32x greater risk-taking, 11x more innovation, and 6x higher performance. And at a human level, treating each other with respect and forming good relationships feels like the right thing to do.
Trust as a Multi-Dimensional Construct
In Part One, we also introduced a model based on the best available information, research and my own experience in terms of what actually works. This model isn’t the work of an academic, but it is based on solid evidence. Making even small improvements in one or more of the five elements can make a big difference in how trustworthy we are perceived as being.
In Part Two, we are going to explore transparency, which at its core, it about being open and honest and demonstrating vulnerability.
Whenever I ask people what they look for in a leader, almost without exception, they say openness and honesty. Nothing destroys trust quicker than people thinking that you’re hiding information, being guarded, or if people think you’re in it for yourself. People want to know the truth.
How to be Transparent and Honest
This is where emotional intelligence really comes in to play. While there are lots of deﬁnitions to do with emotional intelligence (or EQ), the simplest is that means we can regulate and use our emotions intelligently. This isn’t a course about EQ, so we won’t go in too much detail here, but EQ is a topic that has been written about extensively.
Six Strategies to Become More Transparent
I want to now focus on what you can do to build the ‘Transparency muscle’ – that is, become more effective at this element of trust.
#1 – Be Honest: I know this sounds obvious, but I’m surprised how many times people feel conﬂicted around this. Yes, be honest, but with skill – be sensitive to the time and place as well as how the message is delivered. Sometimes people wear honesty as a badge and are therefore too direct to the point of being blunt with little consideration for the potential damage done to the person hearing the message. We don’t need to walk on rice paper, but we do need to be constructive.
#2 – Be Prepared: We have recently worked with a high proﬁle organisation here in Australia that has been plagued by bullying and sexual harassment. One of the problems is people not being open, honest and transparent about how certain behaviours were affecting them. We worked with several small groups of senior leaders and provided some guidance on how they might ‘call’ inappropriate behaviour. We essentially armed them with a kit bag full of phrases that would be helpful in the moment. The phrases focused on getting the message across clearly but not in a way that was passive or hostile.
#3 – Give Feedback Regularly: Be transparent by giving constructive feedback and positive feedback often, so people understand where you’re coming from and what your expectations are. By doing this, people will understand what you’re thinking or feeling about a situation.
#4 – Admit Mistakes: You can also be transparent by admitting mistakes and being vulnerable with others. This shows that you’re not perfect either, and it’s a great way to show people that they can trust you. It’s not about sharing all your deepest, darkest fears or every mistake you’ve ever made, so be strategic about what and when you share your mistakes. If you make one in the moment / present day, speak up early and move on. By being an example for your team, they will learn to be more transparent with you and one another.
#5 – Express your opinions: This is one of the best ways to build trust with your team – simply say what’s on your mind – with skill. As I talked about earlier, we need to think about the what, when and how, but as a general principle, don’t be afraid to say what you’re thinking about a conversation or other situation. In our leadership programs, I call this a leadership superpower! Not just blurting out the ﬁrst thing that comes into your mind but expressing a perspective that will help the team move forward. Sometimes this might feel like a hand-grenade thrown into the middle of the group – an intentional provocative statement or question to get them to think differently.
#6 – Practice Vulnerability: I have recently written an article on leadership and vulnerability, so I will provide a summary here. In my own leadership practice, it is hard to describe the immediate impact vulnerability has on a group of leaders or a team. Recently, I was working with a leadership team as part of our High-Performance Team program, where the impact of one person demonstrating vulnerability was immediate. In this particular team, the effect was profound. Vulnerability creates connection; trust; innovation; a platform for leadership; as well as learning, growth and resilience. Practising being vulnerable is about (1) Being open; (2) Sharing more of yourself; (3) Trusting others; (4) Taking (appropriate) risks and (5) Staying on track by focusing on yourself while at the same time creating the conditions for others also to practice vulnerability. This article (part two) will be published soon.
So, there you have it, my top six tips to build the element of Transparency in your team and with your colleagues. Being transparent requires focus and courage.