Building Trust Through Transparent Leadership

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We all want the brightest, most creative talent to work for our organizations — employees who are loyal and committed to bringing their best, most authentic selves to work each and every day.

Recruiting these gems poses its own set of opportunities and challenges, as does retaining them. We must first understand that individuals with incredible drive and unlimited potential need to thrive, try new things, and realize the depths of their abilities.

What can organizations and leaders do to inspire, teach, encourage, and most importantly, motivate top talent?

Teach Leaders How to Be Transparent

Leaders often feel as if they need to “save face,” and they fear sharing their own struggles will make them look weak in front of staff, resulting in lost credibility. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

We often assume our best and brightest talent is naturally confident and wants a leader who is even more so. Often, however, your most creative, loyal, and innovative employees are the ones who struggle the most with self-doubt and imposter syndrome. The burden of unrealized potential can weigh heavily on these individuals, and when leaders share their own struggles, they build trust with these employees through that transparency.

To assist your leaders in understanding themselves and the challenges employees face on a daily basis, introduce them to concepts such as compassionate/servant leadership, psychological safety, and “NeuroLeadership.” These concepts teach leaders what it means to level the playing field, rather than believe they must know it all, allowing them to stay receptive to others’ views, opinions, and innovative ideas.

Weave Truth and Trust Into Your Culture

Leaders who are transparent and compassionate must be supported by cultures that believe in the power of these values. Organizations that want their people to thrive must understand the importance of creating an environment that feels safe. Psychological safety is a strong example of the benefits of an open and transparent culture: In these environments, individuals can share freely and take risks without fear of consequences.

A great example of building trust through transparency is the concept of tours of duty, where employers encourage their people to own their careers instead of feeling like the organization owns them. A concept borrowed from the military by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and entrepreneur Chris Yeh, the idea behind professional tours of duty is to align employers and employee on a set amount of time to achieve a specific mission. When the end date is approaching, employer and employee can have an open and truthful conversation about what comes next. Tours of duty teach employees that it’s safe to share their aspirations and it’s acceptable to explore opportunities both within and outside the organization. No backlash or consequences — just pure transparency and truth, which create unity and tremendous trust.

Abolish Fear-Based Mindsets and Cultures

The bottom line is fear-based cultures must go. Support your organizational values by showing your employees that you want to hear their ideas — and by listening when they share! Teach leaders how to ask for new ideas and how to receive them. All too often, we find leaders asking for ideas and then immediately communicating all the reasons why the idea will never fly. This style of leadership will shut down employee sharing and stifle any kind of innovation.

Reinforce your commitment to employees’ well-being and career aspirations by scheduling brainstorming sessions facilitated by an unbiased, preferably third-party individual. Provide resources for job shadowing. Create hybrid roles for those who get bored easily and are multitalented. Encourage recreation — a.k.a., re-creation — through allotted time off, work/life balance policies, and remote work, especially for those who lean on the introverted side and need privacy to think and create.

Inevitably, organizations that commit to transparency and teach leaders how to understand themselves and their teams better will create cultures of trust. You will find that you have the right people at the right time doing the right things, which not only creates success, but also creates an indescribable, contagious vibe that others will be clamoring to experience.

Brenda Stanton is vice president of Keystone Partners.

By Brenda Stanton