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Good Leaders Don't Just Pay Lip Service To Transparency, They Live It

In business, leaders often throw around terms like “transparency” and “clarity” casually and without consequence, as though the mere process of paying lip service to such concepts is sufficient to convince customers and employees alike. In reality, very few leaders practice true transparency within their organizations, and even less do it with their customers.

Clear and transparent communication are not simple skills that can be adopted and then dropped at the first sign of trouble, but rather must be practiced in thought, word, and deed. Without a culture of transparency, organizations quickly come unglued and little bumps—like an angry client or misinformed employee—turn into mountains. But with busy schedules, seemingly endless task-lists and diverse clients and personnel, creating a smooth flow of communication can be a challenge.

No one is perfect when it comes to transparent leadership, and I’ve had my share of shortcomings in my role as CEO of BodeTree. The key lesson I’ve learned is that transparency is a habit and like any habit, it takes constant reinforcement.

Throw out the confusing language
Back in high school, I had the choice of studying one of three languages: French, Spanish, or Latin. Thinking that the Latin class would be small and therefore easy, I opted for it. This decision, as with many best laid teenage plans, proved to be a mistake. Not only was the subject matter wildly confusing, the class was taught by a semi-retired Austrian man who had absolutely no patience for anyone under the age of 50. In short, it was a difficult situation that left me with a distaste for all things Latin.

Now, the only time I encounter Latin is in legal documents, where it is used for the explicit purpose of obfuscating the writer’s meaning. Lawyer’s aren’t the only ones guilty of this, of course—intentionally confusing jargon can be found across a number of industries, including both accounting and banking. Many professionals try to keep things intentionally confusing so that they’re needed to translate. It’s a perverse form of job security, I suppose, and one that has always rubbed me the wrong way.

I’ve always lived by the old Mark Twain quote “Never use a five dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” The idea that ideas can be clear, clean, and simple is something that sits at the very core of my leadership strategy and everything we do at BodeTree. There’s no need for confusing, intentionally opaque language, whether it’s internal to your company or customer-facing. Commit to clear, straightforward language and a culture of transparency will follow.

Remember The Value Of Storytelling
It isn’t enough to list out facts and directives for teams or clients. In order for people to understand, you have to tell a compelling story. Not every communication has to be a novel, but putting your company’s mission, strategy and operational directives into a coherent narrative helps both you, your team and your customers better comprehend and remember the key points.

One thing I try to do with my team is to explain my decisions and requests in a story format. I tee up the background of the situation at hand, set the stage and introduce the individuals involved. From there, I move on to the challenge at hand and explore their individual role in what we’re trying to accomplish. Finally, I try to conclude by painting a clear picture of the desired outcome and their role in getting there. My goal is to help my team understand the context, motivation, and outcome.

Tell, Tell and Re-Tell
It’s not enough just to tell a good story to your team, you have to ensure that everyone is telling the same story. If you are having trouble getting your team motivated or connecting with your clients, that doesn’t mean your story is wrong, you may just need more practice. Clear storytelling is a learned skill.

Early on at BodeTree, my team and I struggled to rally around a consistent version of our company’s story. This was due to the fact that our position in the marketplace has always been complex, with a product that serves both small business and institutions with which they work. We each tended to focus on one aspect of our business model rather than the whole story, and that caused strife and confusion when it came to making decisions regarding marketing and product development.

Eventually, the challenge became so severe that we brought in a consultant to help us develop a message that reflected the whole story of the business. Once we had this consistent story, I made sure to reinforce it with the team at every chance I got. All of this reinforcement and practice paid off, and our storytelling abilities improved dramatically.
Here’s the secret about clarity: it takes work to achieve. There is no magic formula for ensuring that people are aligned and share a common understanding of the mission or task at hand. The only way to succeed is for all team members, regardless of rank or position, to make sure that clarity comes first in all interactions.

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