Followers of my work know that I’m fully committed to authenticity and am a preacher of wholehearted leadership. Transparency and vulnerability have enabled me to build multimillion dollar businesses and led to a Best Place to Work award along the way.
Still I wonder, “Is there such a thing as too much transparency and authenticity in leadership?”
For example, I once panicked many employees by sharing the fact that we were losing money, even though we were beating our budget and had several years’ worth of runway left in the bank. Should I have held that fact back?
I recently had a fascinating conversation with Randy Hetrick, who developed a more sophisticated and situational approach to authentic leadership during his time as a Navy SEAL officer, and more recently as the founder and CEO of TRX in San Francisco.[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="200.0"] Randy Hetrick: CEO: TRX
Hetrick started TRX to bring to market a suspension strap exercise system he first used while on deployments as a SEAL. Today, TRX is growing fast and its suspension training system is used throughout the military, professional sports teams and has become a favorite of personal trainers, as well.
Hetrick’s explained that transparency is the best approach, assuming your team members can handle it. He said,
“As a SEAL Team officer, I made a point to always be forthright and truthful with my guys. The activities we were involved in might literally kill you if things went wrong. Given that, I believed that all team mates were owed the full score, not some edited version of the details. SEALs want and expect that from their leaders, and they’re equipped to deal with it.
I’ve found that the same level of disclosure in the civilian business world is sometimes less appropriate because business leaders are often dealing with junior, less well-trained, and certainly less-confidant people than the team mates I enjoyed as a SEAL.”
Don’t use Hetrick’s advice as an excuse to channel Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup, “You can’t handle the truth!” The real takeaway is that as a business leader, you should be accountable for ensuring that your team members “are equipped to deal with it.”
Going back to my personal example, if my profit-loss data frightened some team members, it’s a sure sign that they either didn’t truly understand basic financial principles or they didn’t recall what our objectives for the quarter were. Yes, they should take ownership over these things. But as their leader it should have signaled me to increase my efforts around strategic alignment and understanding financials for everyone.
Additionally, when it comes to authenticity Hetrick makes the distinction between rational and emotional fears.[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="534.0"] (Photo: Spike TV)
“Even in the SEAL community, a leader must learn to moderate and modulate the less-rational, more emotional fears that all humans face. If there is a significant, fact-based misgiving, then the leader needs to stop the train and address it. But if it is just one’s own internal anxieties, the leader’s job is to manage them and to project the confidence that a well-trained team deserves to rally around.”
This doesn’t mean you have to hide your own short-comings and limitations. By sharing them, Hetrick says, “your teams will appreciate the candor and humility and, hell, they’ll sniff them out anyway!” But when it comes to irrational fears, business leaders should focus on the plan and their faith in their colleagues to embrace an optimistic view of the future.
Wholehearted leaders—whether in business or the military—must always be mindful about how much to share and to whom. As Hetrick advises, when in doubt, “Know your audience. Be truthful. Be authentic. Leaders who stick to these three basic tenets will be hard pressed to go wrong in any situation.”
To learn more about Randy Hetrick and his company TRX, visit TRX Training.
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