Transparency: It’s Not Just for Shrink Wrap Anymore

Take our test to see if you’re an honest leader. Hint: No cheating.

Have you ever not told your boss about a mistake?


Have you ever expensed a meal when it wasn’t exclusively a business transaction?

Are you accessible to every employee you manage and, if applicable, to every employee they manage?

Do you admit your mistakes and report them publicly?

How’d you do? If you can answer no to the first two questions and yes to the last two, you’re a transparent leader, or one in the making. If not, here are a few things you can do to get better.

Cultivate integrity.

Every manager faces opportunities to lead transparently. Even a simple ink-stained wretch like me. In previous jobs, I’ve had to deal with time-sheet fudgers and writers threatening companies with negative articles in retaliation for bad customer service. In both instances, these were young people who should’ve known better. Dealing with the issues quickly and frankly led to an opportunity to set these people straight and not let their valuable qualities be thrown out because of a misdeed.

Speak the hard truths.

When Justin Kitch, CEO of Homestead Technologies, a Web-services company for building sites and sharing photos, had to lay off some employees a few years ago, he told his 100 team members on a Thursday afternoon. Instead of letting them stew, he explained his actions, gave everyone Friday off, and told them that decisions would be made by Monday. Employees didn’t have the distraction of workplace gossip to hurt morale during the decision-making process, and Kitch emerged from the layoff with a stronger workforce that trusted him more.


Be willing to set the example.

Herb Baum, CEO of Dial Corp. and author of The Transparent Leader (HarperCollins, 2004), relates what he calls the single best case he’s witnessed of leading with transparency. Not long after he took over Dial in 2000, Reuben Mark, CEO of Colgate-Palmolive and a competitor, called him. Mark had a copy of Dial’s marketing plan for that year on a disk. It came from a former Dial salesperson who’d joined CP. Mark told Baum that he hadn’t looked at it, didn’t intend to, and was returning it. And he was going to deal with the new salesperson appropriately.