This is the second article of a three-part series examining key characteristics associated with leadership: Innovation | Transparency | Inspiration

Does transparency equate to trustworthy? How transparent do leaders need to be to create a transparent culture?

The adjectives describing the type of leader we are have become critical. This three-part series reviews some common but different leadership descriptors and whether to embrace or ignore them. This article considers different perspectives of transparent leadership.

Get their trust

Across industries, experts argue that organizations must strive for transparency. Via and in part because of social media, companies in a variety of sectors can stay ahead or on top of customer requests, comments or problems better than ever.

Leadership and communication experts also agree that great things happen when leaders support transparency internally, too. In his article for Entrepreneur, Andre Lavoie explains that organizations embracing transparency have better relationships, alignment, solutions and engagement.

Thus, transparency has a positive impact on corporate culture, but does creating a transparent environment require being a transparent leader? Not completely.


In his discussion of the risks of too much transparency, leadership expert David De Cremer writes for Harvard Business Review that a completely transparent culture can lead to an increase in blame, distrust, cheating and resistance. When there is too much emphasis on transparency, employees feel like they are under a microscope, trust deteriorates and their ability to be creative can be thwarted.

John Coleman takes this one step further in his article for Fast Company, explaining that leaders need to be able to exercise discretion and enjoy time to consider the implications of their communication before disclosing anything or everything. He cautions that if a leader shares too much information with employees who do not have the ability to understand or control it, it can unnecessarily distract employees and increase their anxiety.

In other words, it is one thing to be a transparent leader; it is another thing to be a trustworthy leader.

Next steps

While most industries — especially those with external clients or customers would benefit from high levels of both internal and external transparency, embracing a highly transparent culture is not necessarily as important for other organizations. Further, while it may be up to leaders to set the tone for a transparent culture, doing so does not necessarily require the leaders to be 100 percent transparent.

The key for leaders across sectors is maintaining the balance between full disclosure and the appropriate detail necessary to inspire trust in their culture. To create a culture of trust, leaders must be able to make their vision clear enough for employees at varying levels to understand their individual role in the organization and the impact of their actions.

Thus, while being considered a transparent leader may be helpful in some cases, it is not the same or even as important as being considered a trustworthy leader.

In the final article of this series, we will answer this question: Do leaders need to be inspiring?