Three Steps To Becoming A More Transparent Leader
Business leaders like to use buzzwords like “transparency” and “clarity” when describing their communication style. But lip service aside, very few leaders actually practice transparent communication within their organization or with their customers and clients—often to the detriment of the business.
Without a culture of transparency, organizations quickly come unglued and little bumps—like an angry client or misinformed employee—turn into mountains.
Busy schedules, seemingly endless task-lists and diverse clients and personnel can present daily obstacles to a smooth flow of organizational communication.
No one is perfect when it comes to transparent communication, and I’ve had my share of shortcomings in my role as CEO of BodeTree. The key lesson I’ve learned is that transparency is a habit and like any habit, it takes constant reinforcement to apply and perfect.
Forget the confusing language
Back in high school, I had the choice of studying one of three languages: French, Spanish, or Latin. Thinking that the Latin class would be small and therefore easy, I opted for it. This decision, as with many best laid teenage plans, proved to be a mistake. Not only was the subject matter wildly confusing, the class was taught by a semi-retired Austrian man who had absolutely no patience for anyone under the age of 50. In short, it was a difficult situation that left me with a distaste for all things Latin.
These days, the only time I encounter Latin is in legal documents, where it is used for the explicit purpose of obfuscating the writer’s meaning. Lawyer’s aren’t the only ones guilty of this, of course—intentionally confusing jargon can be found across a number of industries, including both accounting and banking.
I’ve always lived by the old Mark Twain quote “Never use a five dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” The idea that ideas can be clear, clean, and simple is something that sits at the very core of my leadership strategy and everything we do at BodeTree.
When you commit to clear, straightforward language and a culture of transparency will follow.
Always tell a great story
Telling a great story is the cornerstone of powerful communication. Clients and team members can more easily connect with a compelling narrative than a list of facts and directives.
Not every communication has to be a novel, but putting your company’s mission, strategy and operational directives into a coherent narrative can clarify the keys points and help commit them to memory.
One thing I try to do with my team is to explain my decisions and requests in a story format. I tee up the background of the situation at hand, set the stage and introduce the individuals involved. From there, I move on to the challenge at hand and explore their individual role in what we’re trying to accomplish. Finally, I try to conclude by painting a clear picture of the desired outcome and their role in getting there. My goal is to help my team understand the context, motivation, and outcome.
Tell, Tell and Re-Tell
It’s not enough just to tell a good story to your team, you have to ensure that everyone is telling the same story. If you are having trouble getting your team motivated or connecting with your clients, that doesn’t mean your story is wrong, you may just need more practice. Clear storytelling is a learned skill.
Over the years at BodeTree, my team and I have struggled to rally around a consistent version of our company’s story. We each tended to focus on one aspect of our business model rather than the whole story, and that caused strife and confusion when it came to making decisions regarding marketing and product development.
Eventually, the challenge became so severe that we brought in a consultant to help us develop a message that reflected the whole story of the business. Once we had this consistent story, I made sure to reinforce it with the team at every chance I got. All of this reinforcement and practice paid off, and our storytelling abilities improved dramatically.
Here’s the secret about transparent communication, it takes time and practice to achieve. There is no magic formula for ensuring that people are aligned and share a common understanding of the mission or task at hand. The only way to succeed is for all team members, regardless of rank or position, to make sure that clarity comes first in all interactions.