3 Pitfalls in Applying Transparency and Candor in the Workplace

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This article is also published by The Business Journals.

As an executive advisor, I’ve heard many discussions about fostering an environment of radical transparency and candor. I’ve seen many leaders trying to apply these foundational concepts to their for-profit or nonprofit organizations.

But as well-meaning as these attempts were, they sometimes had the opposite effect and created greater dysfunction within the organization.

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The authors and thought leaders who have brought these ideas to mainstream organizational life have done a great service to the rest of us, and this article is not a critique of their work.

In fact, after doing my own research, I have found these issues appropriately and expertly addressed. However, as wonderful as these ideas and principles are, they sometimes can hurt an organization and make matters worse, especially when they are not implemented correctly.

Here are three common pitfalls I’ve observed when well-meaning leaders encourage their teams to apply the concepts of transparency and candor without a proper plan.

Common Pitfall #1: Personal attacks are cloaked in radical transparency. The first common pitfall is pretty straightforward. I’m willing to bet you can think of at least one colleague that uses honesty and transparency to personally attack another colleague. For example, when a colleague throws someone else under the bus or lays blame where it doesn’t belong, only to turn around and say “somebody has to be honest here.”

I don’t share this example with an intent to discourage team conflict. In fact, the ability to navigate and ultimately leverage conflict for the organization’s good sets great leaders apart from other leaders.

But bear in mind that unhealthy conflict is always personal and unproductive. It leads to self-protection and less vulnerability instead of better results. Healthy conflict, on the other hand, is never personal. It is always about making sure that the organization’s mission is successful.

Common Pitfall #2: Pushback is perceived as dismissing another individual’s transparency. When it comes to transparent conversations, keep in mind that sometimes team members may perceive disagreement as a dismissal of their own opinion. While this is normal and the result of our own bias, it can also negatively impact the team. In fact, when an employee receives feedback that is more negative than their own self-perception, they are “44% more likely to drop the relationship with that colleague.”

This reaction can lead to conflict escalation or avoidance which results in team conversations and debates becoming shallower.

When as leaders we respond to pushback in a way that seeks to understand, we model values–like humility and curiosity–for our teams.

Common Pitfall #3: The leader is unwilling to put a stake in the ground. It’s not uncommon for teams to be stuck discussing the same conversation over and over again under the guise of trying to achieve a solution that pleases everybody.

But when a team repeatedly rehashes the same conversation, it’s a sign of a dysfunction within your organization.

When teams implement the principles of transparency, leaders must display the courage to move the team forward. Do away with hashing and rehashing the same conversation — it will not lead to greater success.

Instead, take a stand and place a stake in the ground so that you can finish that old conversation and lead your team into new territories. Once moving forward, there is no need to continually discuss the things of old.

Not sure what this might look like within your organization? Here are three telltale signs that as a leader you are not standing firm:

Dysfunction grows and silos strengthen

Your best people become more frustrated and look for the exit.

Your culture repels potential healthy team members.

When done right, implementing candor and transparency within your organization will bring many benefits — from exposing unhealthy behavior to increasing overall productivity, and improving your organization’s reputation. But if you’re not careful, it can lead to pushback, personal attacks disguised as transparency, and being stuck in the same old conversation.

If any of these signs seem familiar, contact us to start a conversation about how we can help.

Joyner Advising Group’s mission is to help forward-looking leaders create alignment.

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