How to Recover from a Transparency Mistake | Fierce

How to Recover Transparency Mistake

I’ve had the pleasure of leading our global work — either through new market expansion, international partnerships, or through our domestic U.S. clients taking Fierce across the world —  for almost 18 months and to say it’s been a learning year in 2019 would be an understatement.

Both internal to Fierce and external with our clients and partners, the learnings that have occurred for me this year center around a critical human desire for trust. And I would take it one step further and say not just trust, but trust that is built on transparency. 

This year, I led a team into an unknown place for our business: to take what is existing and build on it, quickly. 

My team trusted me a lot on this adventure. Our clients and partners are trusting us, and there were many times when on this journey, the trust was shaken. Not because of some devious desire to withhold, but because there is an art AND skill around being transparent. 

According to Tolero Solutions, 45% OF EMPLOYEES say a lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting their work performance.

That’s huge.

Just like most leadership components, we talk about them as if they are some innate talent you possess at birth. This is WRONG. Learning to be transparent is a skill! 

To be clear, I’m not talking about learning how to be honest or not to lie. That is different and a component of being able to be transparent (and also a very low bar to being a good leader).

What I am talking about is the ability to share information — often complex information — at a rapid pace and that often requires you to be ahead of events unfolding, and to share what is going on in a strong and simple narrative. When you do this, you build and sustain trust.

So, how do you to do this? Here are my three biggest key learnings:

1. Transparent emotions.

It might seem like adulting 101 to say you should be able to articulate what you feel about a given situation easily but shocker — it’s not! We are emotional beings and if you don’t include your own emotions in your narrative as you work with your team, clients, and partners you are doing this wrong.

At Fierce, we define a fierce conversation as one in which you come out from behind yourself, into the conversation, and make it real.

Susan Scott, Fierce Founder, and CEO discussed trust and radical transparency in a podcast interview with TalentGrow. She explained that “trust is built one conversation at a time, and it’s also lost one conversation at a time. Trust requires persistent identity, [which] means me showing up as myself completely, consistently, all the time, every day so that I’m not different depending on who I’m with.”

That “make it real part” includes emotion. The skill is being able to speak to the emotion in a way that specific, relatable and appropriate.

2. Transparency in decision-making.

I have a secret to share to the world: I don’t know everything. I am a leader and I don’t have all the answers…shocking! I had to break this news to my team and our clients/partners this year several times.

Articulating this poorly can actually lose trust — a leaders worst nightmare is that they are seen by their team and clients as inept.

Here’s the thing…I’m not talking about incompetence. I’m talking about being vulnerable enough, and honestly strategic enough, to be able to share what specifically the help you need from others is, because it’s humanly impossible to see all the different points of view that exist. 

This is the heart of our team model, wherein we explore how to make decisions by giving others the right information needed and asking the right questions to get the help you need.

You might hit initial resistance, because, isn’t that your job as the leader to come up with these answers? (No, it isn’t.)

That’s why this can’t be a one time event. Leaders must show up like this in decision-making situations consistently and then, over time, people will respond and trust will be built.

3. Transparent intentions.

Lastly, make your intentions known. Within your team are your values, goals, and mission for what is trying to be accomplished clear and defined.

Did your team contribute to the values, goals, and mission? Muddiness breeds our human instinct to tell ourselves a story and often that story is not positive.

Worse than muddiness is not actually seeking the input of your team members and clients/partners to help inform it. Creating a compelling narrative is the job of a leader but coming up with all the ideas yourself is silly…and I did that this year.

I did the thing you’re not supposed to do. I created a vision, goals and a mission for our expansion work and I never asked anyone for their input.

Not surprisingly, by July, I was dealing with a crisis in confidence by my team and some clients and partners. To shift the trajectory I rewrote the story quickly and asked those critical to its success what THEY think our values, goals, and mission should be.

While I’ll have to fill you in on how we execute against those in a future post, I can share that immediately the morale and trust improved.

In the end, remember that being transparent with intentions holds us accountable for making our intentions positive.

An article from Psychology Today titled “POSITIVE INTENTIONS BUILD WORKPLACE TRUST” affirms this idea: “Intention drives behavior. The intention behind our actions impacts our trust building ability. Positive intentions build trust; negative intentions don’t.”


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