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Transparency in business? It might not be that clear


2 min read

You need to get out there and be 'social' as the business owner, right? Getting active on Twitter, LinkedIn, to tell your story and be transparent–that's all the rage. And while it might be good advice, there are some crucial nuances that we rarely pause to think about in terms of what's actually in the best interest of your business. Not just how much transparency, but what kind?

We can probably all agree that transparency has something to do with 'letting your insides be seen'. But the conversation is pretty one-sided from there - it usually becomes about the how much - finding the mythical sweet spot between 'I'm busy, I don't have time for that' and using your business Twitter handle to share photos of your cat. The irony is that in our quest for authenticity, mostly what's happening is image management and subtle manipulation - how can you appear more human in order to sell more stuff?

The tragedy is when transparency gets used this way as a tactic to convince, instead of as an invitation to connect.

I was at a conference recently, and one of the keynote speakers was introduced by way of a 3-minute corporate promo bragging about all the amazing things this business was doing in the world other than making money. Every single sentence in the video was about 'what makes us special' and 'how we do it differently'. The problem was that every single frame of the video was a closeup of the CEO, with nary an employee to be found, wind blowing strategically in his hair in front of fabulous scenery. It was pretty transparent, but not in the way I think the ad agency intended.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.I. Montoya

Transparency, in the domain of business, has nothing to do with sharing the details of your personal life. And, maybe with rare exception, transparency has little to do with your successes and the things you 'got right'. The transparency that people respond to is the kind that shows you don't have it all figured out. It's about sharing the kinds of things that are uncomfortable to share because of the voice who tells us sharing those things would make us weak and vulnerable.

And the irony, which we all know from personal experience, is that when someone transparently 'owns' their struggles, it's the surest sign of strength. It's that kind of leadership we most easily respond to, because it's the most human.

That's the window we want into your world as the business leader. We don't want the details of your personal life, we want to experience who you are when we walk in the door of your business, or talk to a member of your team on the phone. It's that level of humanity, of feeling your care-in-action, that draws us in and makes us feel like yours is a world we want to be part of.

Quirky is fine. We're all weird. And letting that out every once in a while can bring some fresh air into a hard working business. Just be conscious and clear about when and why you're doing it - not to be controlling, but out of a deeper care for the long term message you are trying to express with your team, and with your market.

Business isn't the right place to show everyone the 'insides' of your personal life, it's the place to express what's inside of you in a way that matters to the lives of your customers. Build your passion into your product. Give us direct experiences of your care.

Let your insides out. But don't forget to put them back in.

Jonathan Raymond

Written by Jonathan Raymond

Jonathan was a frequent contributor to the EMyth blog from 2011-2015. His articles focus on marketing, branding, and organizational culture.