Leadership transparency. Are you really fair dinkum? How “filtered” are your messages? What makes you (and me) think I can trust you?
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Leadership Transparency. Clear For All To See…
So it’s election time again. Transparency at it’s all time highest, so the electorate knows exactly what’s going on and what each candidate and their party stands for, right? Completely fair dinkum, trustworthy messaging abounds. No spin. No slogans. That we know exactly what we are going to vote for and against. And what we (the people) can expect to be delivered for our constituency once the “best” representative of these, our collective wants and interests has been entrusted with our expectations. Why? Well so that we can make informed and considered decisions about who best represents what matters to us, the people, not so? Of course.
Why would they have to “toe the party line”? They are our candidate for our electorate. Surely the party’s needs and expectations can’t be more important than ours, the electorate? Or could the careers and the being (re)elected to positions of power perhaps be more important than ours? Or maybe the influence from large Corporates through their “donations”? But that’s why we have an opposition, don’t we? To “keep the bastards honest?” Why am I reminded of the fox guarding the chicken coop here?
Please forgive my abject cynicism. I’m an executive life coach. Why am I rabbitting on about this so?
Because this is such a perfectly blatant depiction of the realities and the dynamics of public, corporate and business life. And not just of large scale corporate business. Why? Well, because it comes down to the need and use of power of individual people and their collective behaviour. And as John Dahlberg said so aptly back in 1834: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely“. Remember?
Corporate Transparency – A Minefield
Well, let’s think about some of the parallels here. Politicians as well as senior corporate professionals are often well trained in “spin”. That is to place subtly and elegantly positioned views about what they want their audiences to “take away”. They have to keep a wide range of stakeholders “on-side”. The analysts have huge influence over their share price (often a significant component of their multi-million dollar bonuses). Their market needs to be reassured that everything is as it is expected. Losses or problem products or services or project delays etc need constant emphasis that it’s all good. Whether it is or it isn’t.
That’s the external view. Just as important is the internal view that keeps staff informed not just about opportunities, but also about initiatives, problems or impending disasters. Here too there is often a necessary lack of transparency in order to avoid panic, concern or mutiny.
Of course what often makes these situations worse is that the real state of affairs can be just as well “protected” by the ranks below these leaders, in that nobody wants to be the “bad news messenger”. And so many a message is “filtered on the way up”, with fingers crossed behind their back, hoping that the problem will “go away” by the time anyone finds out. This is why the checks and balances brought about by good corporate governance is so important in order to stay on top of all these potential pitfalls.
Add to that the media scrutiny and the growing amount of distrust and it can be a veritable minefield, sometimes making transparency difficult. I know this because of the amount of business executives and business owners I coach and mentor through such difficult situations.
That’s the “positive” aspect.
Corporate Transparency – The Dark Side
Unfortunately, like the bad taste in our mouth often left by the political picture painted above, similarly tainted situations more often prevail in the business arena. This is where the realities of business survival and market, product and project constraints are alive and well. But also where the surreptitious agenda management intended to “hide” the “inconvenient truth” often comes into play. Where power and ego based politics undermine otherwise sound and healthy business practices and situations. Where “my or our” agenda is more important than the overall companies’ agenda. Where “I win, but I’m afraid you (or everyone else) loses” features.
Where corruption and a raft of unsavoury business practices fester. The incredible extent of the Enron collapse, the recent FIFA, Mossack Fonseca and other global bribery, corruption and “influence” examples make my point. Greed becomes the absolute driver, leveraging all the aforementioned “polished spin” approaches to try and show a credibility that is simply fabricated in order to maintain the status quo, the upset of which could undermine often years, if not decades of personalized but heavily secretly guarded undercover energy to satisfy the intended greed.
In such situations where “absolute power has corrupted absolutely”, it is almost impossible for “the person in the street” to have any influence. Whistle blowers are notoriously undermined, seemingly even punished. This is where I so admire investigative journalism that manages to uncover such ills. But I wonder sometimes at what personal expense, thinking of a certain individual holed up in an embassy for almost 5 years?
Transparency. So What?
Nothing written above is anything new to most of us. So why the blog rant? This has been real for centuries.Will it ever change?
The only common thread here is that any such transparency impairing situations boil down to the personal integrity and approach chosen by individuals. Every team or conspiracy is made up of individuals that have the choice to maintain their integrity or to “sell it out”.
In any such situations, each of us has that moral choice to exercise. I have guided many through such situations and I know how difficult they can be. Where we often discussed the perspective of what one little voice could possibly achieve against such magnitudes of influence. Just the same way as each and every vote counts to potentially make a difference in an election, so each and every one of us can influence the choices we (and others) make in our personal and professional decisions, behaviors and agendas.
And if you’re a leader, then my belief is that you have an even larger responsibility towards those you lead and those you represent, to exercise those choices even more carefully. I subscribe to (and coach) that empowered and supported teams, projects or companies of people led by, through and with the right values and the right integrity and for the right reasons and outcomes will hold the winning cards in the long term any day.
Just like I wrote in authenticity, I urge you to choose wisely. Together, we can all help change what isn’t good, for the greater good – in the long term, if we just keep faith in the good prevailing.
On 25th June, I was interviewed on this topic by the ABC’s Great Southern Radio with Donna Dabala. You can hear that interview by clicking here: