Transparency and Vulnerability

In my last post, I began to explore radical transparency from a the example of a client organisation. To lead transparently generates trust. This kind of leadership shows up before people with integrity.

Lead transparently and you generate trust.

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However, a lot of leaders baulk at precisely this invitation to transparency. It is a vulnerable place, and for some, it is far too uncomfortable, dangerous even. They would rather hide; hide in their boardrooms, or behind closed doors; hiding behind unnecessary secrecy, behind the obfuscation of corporate jargon, using information as a weapon rather than for engagement. Or they often pretend, hiding behind a mask. They fear the real them being seen.

The problem is that we are not as stupid as these leaders think we are. We see through their masks. Eventually. We look for integrity and are disappointed to find hypocrisy. We see through the veil of secrecy for brave leaders, and instead, we see fear.

The shelf life of these less-than vulnerable leaders is short. Soon the game’s up. We see you. We see you for who you are.

The shelf-life of leaders who pretend is short. Soon the game's up. We see you for who you are. #bereal

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Warts and All

When Oliver Cromwell won the English Civil War and became Lord Protector - not King - of England, he commissioned a portrait from Sir Peter Lely, with these instructions: the artist was to paint him "warts and all," and not as the convention of the day would have it, the equivalent to photoshopping a model to make the subject look more attractive. Here was the result:

Portrait of Oliver Cromwell

Cromwell had dealt with his vanity and refused to present an image of himself other than what was reality.

This illustrates that an alternative is available, but it can require an uncomfortable journey for the leader. The warts-and-all leader has experienced shame and dealt with it. They are comfortable with their imperfections. They have a robust "take me or leave me" attitude. They risk vulnerability and show us their true selves. Now, that is leadership that builds trust.

I’ve experienced both kinds. The secretive or pretentious leaders have betrayed my trust more than once and hurt me. So it takes me a while now to trust a leader.

But those authentic leaders I know, and they do exist, can call on me, and I’ll do what I can for them.

I love them, warts and all.

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