This question— how transparent to be as a leader — is one I’ve pondered a lot recently. This was particularly so at a previous company, where I rose to director of engineering and effectively replaced a lot of the “old guard” leadership. That prior leadership had been seen as rather opaque, and that was one of the many patterns that I didn’t want to perpetuate. But I did often wonder: being transparent *seems* to be a no-brainer, so why do so many leaders (past leaders of my company — otherwise good people — included) seem to eschew it?
It grew even more difficult as questions arose about the very future of our company. We were owned by a larger company, and there were signs that our office might not remain open for too much longer. My engineers often asked my opinion, whether we were on the verge of being shut down. I didn’t want to present false optimism, but I also didn’t want to demoralize my folks, and drive them to start looking for new jobs.
So I told them the truth: that I honestly didn’t know. That things might turn around, or that we might all be looking for new jobs by the year’s end. But in the meantime, we had some really interesting and groundbreaking projects to do. So I suggested that they learn as much as they could, and if the worst happened, they’d have some good experience under their belts.
Well, the “worst” did happen, and we all wound up looking for new jobs well before the year’s end. But it didn’t come as a shock to anyone, and a number of my engineers thanked me afterwards for being so honest and keeping it real. So count me as a leader who favors transparency.