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It can feel lonely at the top, especially in an uncertain economy. But it doesn’t have to be. Some CEOs believe that it is their duty to solve all of the company’s problems with their own hands. This way of thinking can destroy a company. Small problems snowball, employees feel that their insights are not valued, trust is broken and respect is lost.
Instead, transparent leadership gives CEOs and employees a unified foundation for solving problems. Here are the best practices I’ve seen great CEOs use to lead transparently in times of uncertainty:
Infographic created by Track Your Truck, a GPS tracking company
1. Create a regular cadence of clear and consistent messages
This can be in the form of monthly or quarterly business updates on how the company is tracking its goals. Employees deserve to know how their company is performing, what obstacles they face, and the reason behind decisions that could affect them. That doesn’t mean just reading the numbers without context or strategy. Great leaders communicate a strategic plan to resolve any issues and commit to providing regular updates on progress.
Related: 4 Things Employees Want From Leaders In Uncertain Times
While transparency is always important, it becomes crucial in times of turmoil and strife. Some leaders worry that sharing bad news will deflate employees. But being candid about challenges eliminates rumors and gossip and creates a unified team that can work in alignment to find solutions. Transparent communication doesn’t mean you have to work out every possible worst-case scenario with the team — it means providing an honest roadmap of where the company stands today, where it’s going tomorrow, and the plan to get there.
3. Enable accountability
I had a job coach in high school who encouraged me to write down my goals and stick them on my fridge. Showing goals to the public creates a level of transparency that encourages accountability. When great leaders communicate specific business goals and KPIs, innovative ideas and solutions can emerge. Some CEOs may see risks in setting a high bar for success, as it can negatively affect morale if the goal is not achieved. But it has just the opposite effect: challenging teams to meet the challenge. Employees feel that everyone is in it together and are motivated to do their part.
Related: Here’s How To Foster A Culture Of Accountability In Your Company
4. Allow room for ideas to flow upward
The best leaders remain vigilant in developing their people and processes, even in the most trying times. Breaking the hierarchy by ensuring that all levels of the organization understand strategy and performance cultivates mutual respect. If you cultivate a culture in which employees feel valued, they don’t jump at the first sign of a storm, but help to close the shutters and get to work. I look forward to the follow-up emails in which employees test my thinking under pressure. I feel energized when I see employees step outside of their day-to-day roles to think about the bigger picture. And I am actively looking for employees who are willing to hold their leaders and themselves accountable.
5. Anchor for the mission, vision and purpose
Great leaders always consider their mission, vision and purpose as guiding principles for decision making. Applying these strategic principles to the team creates space for everyone to think about the business in a way that is aligned and allows companies to stay close to customer needs. When leaders are committed to their cause, even in difficult times, a culture of transparency and respect emerges. And the resulting alignment allows CEOs to put their full focus on strategy, culture, organization, results and execution.
Related: How transparency became a top priority for businesses and why you might care
6. Hire for perseverance and resilience
Successful leaders look for resilience from the start by asking interview questions that shed light on whether the potential customer is a problem solver or someone who plays the victim when things go wrong. Great leaders build a team that isn’t afraid to manage up and down or roll up their sleeves and step outside their jobs when the situation calls for it. Hiring entrepreneurial individuals who are committed to a life of learning and sharing new ideas and solutions will benefit an entire organization, especially during times of hardship. When employees pursue goals and still believe it is possible to win even when they are behind, it creates a culture of resilience and inspires the team to move forward and take on any challenge.
Leaders thrive on sharing inspiration and positivity. We ride on the pinnacle of motivating employees to exceed new milestones and congratulating teams on hitting new benchmarks. An “open door policy” is easy when things go right. But a true leader knows that the measure of success lies in how you handle the hardships.
Despite the obvious benefits, it can be difficult for CEOs to really lean into the transparent leadership strategy. CEOs can go off the rails by feeling like they should already have all the answers. They may want to isolate their team from the harsh reality or worry that the team will gossip and lose focus on their day-to-day responsibilities. The problem with this mindset is that it disrespects employees as dedicated and innovative individuals, and it ignores the fact that the team is hired to help discover solutions even in the most challenging of times.
Related: 3 Reasons Why Investing in Employee Resilience Pays Off
Transparent leadership is an effective tool to encourage creative problem solving and foster a culture of honest and open communication. It sheds light on the power of trust. In turn, when CEOs trust their teams to be part of the solution, employees can rely on their CEOs’ decisions. Only with that level of mutual trust (and the ensuing camaraderie) can teams truly cope with uncertainty and volatility.