I first heard the term “transparent leader” in the early 90”s. I was doing corporate training for Bell South and we discussed how “transparent leadership” reeks havoc in an organization. Let’s begin with a description- I am a transparent leader when I pass on organizational change, a new direction, value etc. as “this comes from the top, or my boss said to do this- or leadership says”… When I do that I cease being a leader and become a messenger. And we all know what ultimately happens to the messenger …

Let’s talk first about what is wrong the “transparent” approach.

  • It makes me look good and others look bad- with an unpopular change. For instance- “I liked our old policy but ‘they’ said it must change to this”… Here is a cue- if I am sharing information and I look good and my boss looks bad- I am a “transparent leader”. If I disagree with the direction of decision I must challenge up! If it doesn’t change I must support down. If I cannot support the decision with “we believe” I should look for a new job (of course illegal, immoral or fattening decisions are always challenged!) rather than stay and malign the leaders.
  • “Transparent leadership” also removes me from being a leader and hamstrings my influence. I had a leader who realized she was transparent when she said- “Mary had a suggestion for our preschool but as she shared it with me she said, ‘I will just talk to Hal, since you say he is the decision maker’”. Ouch- although she was new- she realized she had said- “Let me ask Hal” or this is Hal’s value and her direct report was following her lead.

So what do I when I disagree with a decision?

  • First you challenge up with your rationale. If the decision remains the same begin to use the pronoun- “we” instead of they. The truth is we must decide what is a conviction (I am willing to quit over) and what is a preference (I prefer this direction). You owe it to your boss and the organization to challenge up or at a minimum- ask for clarity on a decision you disagree with.
  • At the end of the day (an over used phrase I know) if you find yourself disagreeing about decisions all the time- maybe you need to find a new place to lead.

What do you think? Leave a reply please.