The Double Edged Sword of Transparent Leadership?


As 10,000 Baby Boomers a day exit the work force, today’s leaders are facing a massive influx of Millennials (People born between the years of 1980 and 2000) who are calling for their leaders to be both transparent and vulnerable. This is all well and good except that what is considered transparent and vulnerable to a Millennial can feel a lot like TOO MUCH INFORMATION, especially to leaders from an older generation.

A case in point: Back in 2015 when Tim Cooke, the CEO of Apple, recently revealed that he was gay, the announcement made the news, but in a sort of “Yeah, that’s cool,” way. Not in an “OMG!!!” way. Why? Because, Millennials took his revelation as his being open and vulnerable about a part of his life that the average Boomer might have kept hidden. For Millennials his “coming out” increased their level of trust in him.

The irony of it is that a Boomer boss is likely to see any and all Transparency as TMI. In other words, Tim Cooke Coming Out…great for Millennials (who he leads). Freaky for Boomers, who grew up with a doctrine ofyou shouldn’t air dirty laundry in public.

The Boomer Guide to Transparent Leadership

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Now you are probably wondering, how can Boomer leaders know if what they are revealing (or at least considering revealing) is the sort of information that shows them as stepping into transparent leadership or if it’s just TMI? (And there is such a thing as Too Much Information, even for Millennials.)

Simply stated, there are no hard and fast rules, but one guideline is that the big picture is more important than the details.

Here’s what I mean, and not to be crass, when the CEO of Apple revealed that he was gay, that was enough for most Millennials. They didn’t need—or even want—to know how many partners he has had or the details of his sex life.

Here’s the rub: As soon as Millennials get a whiff that a leader might be trying to hide something, they will want more and more details. Once they sense an attempt at evasion, no amount of details will be enough, and they will relentlessly dig until they find it.

The key to successful transparent leadership

Be proactive about the information you share and most important—if you are asked a direct question, give a direct and honest answer—no matter how personally painful, and against your generational conditioning it might feel.

It’s a cliché I know, but honesty really is the best policy—especially when one of your goals is to be a leader whose people are Fiercely Loyal.

Look, if you are in a leadership position there’s a good chance that you are at least a reasonably start cookie, so it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the most important thing to remember is that transparent leadership is about YOU!  It’s about who you are, what you believe, what you have done.

That being said, a vitally important final point about transparency: The line that cannot be crossed is when the information is about someone else.

Many like to tell themselves (and others) that gossiping is just being transparent…It’s Not!  It will, at best, lose you any loyalty you have garnered, and at worse have you removed from your position, and in all likelihood in a very expensive legal stranglehold. Therefore, if you find yourself tempted to reveal details about someone else, stop right now. You’ll come across as being petty and mean-spirited, instead of transparent and open—and believe me, that’s the last thing you want if you are going to lead Millennials.

I trust that you found this article valuable, if so, feel free to send this to your friends. I eagerly anticipate your feedback and comments.

Please share, like and comment below!

With gratitude,

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One of Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers to hire, Dov Baron is a leadership advisor to the United Nations (UN), a bestselling author, the world’s only Corporate Cultural Momentum Strategist, and a top-ranking podcast host. He is also the leading authority on Authentic Leadership, and Leadership Succession or, as he prefers to call it, “Full Monty Leadership.” Try his Authentic Leadership Matrix for free: