Yes, there’s such a thing as being too transparent.

At the start of the pandemic, businesses faced an overwhelming number of unknowns. A sudden combination of spending cuts, remote teams and a scary new illness changed the playing field. When revenue pipelines looked as shaky as newly assembled work-from-home desks, tough decisions were needed around strategy, staff and salaries.

Leaders were faced with a conundrum: when your organisation is facing uncertainty, how much should you share with your team? 

Is transparency helpful?

At Hatch, transparency was one of our initial values. We believed in sharing honest and open information with our team – about revenue, runway and whether or not we were hitting our targets. 

As a founding group, it worked well. As we grew, so did the problems with our approach. A handful of new hires found transparent information motivational; they were comfortable operating in high levels of uncertainty. But for the majority, transparency led to undue stress. The stark facts negatively impacted their effectiveness and enjoyment at work.

So we changed our approach and focused on honesty over transparency. We knew there was a fine line between enough information and too much, and that it was our responsibility as leaders to carry the weight so that our team didn’t have to. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is giphy.gif

Navigating the line

Kristen often shares the most confronting feedback she received in an early executive role; wearing her stress on her sleeve. She’s not alone. 

The more senior the role, the more information you become privy to and the more ownership you have over its outcome. For empathetic leaders, authenticity is paramount. We lead with vulnerability, and it can be challenging (and uncomfortable) to ‘pretend’ everything is ok when it really might not be.

This is where leaders have to navigate the fine line between honesty and transparency. Our job is to motivate, inspire and encourage, it’s not to transpose our fears onto our teams. Don’t lead a team? At Powrsuit, we know that leadership exists at every level. You don’t need a job title or direct reports to practice better ways to address challenges at work – the sooner you start, the better prepared you’ll be to climb the next rung. 

When under pressure, no one gets it right all the time, but you can harness the power of self-awareness and storytelling to bring people along the journey, without overburdening them:

1. Acknowledge uncertainty, avoid fear

Like it or not, you will be navigating change and uncertainty throughout your career. In the past year alone, AI has leapt out of movie scripts and into our lives, interest rates and inflation have shot up, and many of us are navigating return-to-office mandates. 🤯

Feel panic rising? A transparent (and unhelpful) response would be to openly express your emotions as they bubble. Like a highly contagious pandemic, the people around you will catch your fears while productivity and mental health take a nosedive.

Instead, as a leader facing into the unknown, honesty is the best policy. Acknowledge that the path ahead looks rocky and that you don’t have all the answers yet. These things are both true, but another thing is that you will work together to come up with solutions. Remind your team of this often and honestly.

2. Focus on what you can control

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things outside your control, but much more useful to identify what you can. While it can take time to determine the best course of action, don’t confuse a lack of immediate answers with an inability to find them. 

Now is the time to embrace and encourage a problem, then a solution mindset. Break big mountains down into small steps, identify and celebrate wins and clearly and consistently reinforce the steps you’re taking to get from here to where you need to be. 

 3. Find your people

Taking on more responsibility often means transitioning from being part of the team to leading one. This shift can feel isolating, especially for women. We have shallower professional networks, and networking opportunities don’t always fit our schedules. But, it’s really important to find your people – those you can safely share your fears, concerns and stress with.

Your professional board of directors will evolve throughout your career, so ensure you have the right support for what you’re facing right now. Membership networks like Powrsuit are designed to help professional women at every level connect with others who are facing similar challenges, and we should all have a peer group

Bring your whole best self to work

Your role as a leader is to create the best environment for your team’s success. With a solid support system and a strong understanding of the difference between honesty and transparency, you can bring your best self to work and lead authentically.

30 second action

Write a list of the people in your life who you can go to for career support and accountability. The next time you have a challenge, share it a couple of them and ask for their help problem-solving.

Was this helpful?

Weekly leadership insights, straight to your inbox

One leadership skill, every week

Each week, we cover one leadership skill or challenge and share a 30-second action that turns theory into practice.