Make transparency your leadership superpower

After two hours of racing in the hot sun and rough sea, our 6-person outrigger canoe team was neck and neck with another club coming into the home stretch. I was in the second seat from the front of the boat. And I was spent.

While every position is hard, when you're at the front, you have to both set the pace AND pull the dead weight of the 400-pound canoe, plus that of your teammates. Meanwhile, the steersperson at the back is in charge of navigation and keeping the boat safe. They also are the only ones who attend the prep meeting before the race to learn the course route.

With the other boat pushing us hard coming into the harbour, I knew I needed to manage my energy. And realized I didn't know how much farther we had to go.

"Where's the finish line?" I shouted to the steersperson. "Never mind," she said. "Just keep paddling." Not the reply I wanted to hear with my muscles on fire. "Where's the frigging finish line?" I shouted again. "Don't worry about it," she replied. Knowing something we didn't made her feel like she somehow had control over us. She was wrong.

Fed up, I gave her an ultimatum. "Tell us now. Or we stop paddling and you lose." Silence. So, I stopped. So did my buddy in seat one. Panic followed. "It's the end of that dock with the red buoy," she finally blurted out.

That's all we needed to hear. We had the information required to do our job and pulled away from the competition to beat them.

"Knowledge is power" is an old saying that's more true than ever, as we struggle to evolve past leadership models based on colonial, patriarchal views of the world. Nothing kills trust and engagement faster than hoarding information.

How can we expect people to be creative, to help us tackle today's complex problems, to improve our processes and products, if we keep secrets and never let them see the big picture?

Organizations, governments and individual leaders talk a lot about transparency. But few do it well, especially when it comes to making change. They still tell believe that, if they tell their people the truth, then those people won't "buy into" the new idea. Forgetting that people are going to discover the truth at some point anyway.

They also forget that, when you invite people into your challenge, give them the same information you have, and ask them to use their gifts to help you co-create a solution, you not only get a better solution. You also get better engagement because it's their idea.

Trust takes a long time to build. And can be shattered forever in a moment. As a change leader, you want your people to trust you. Maybe you should start doing the same, and give them the information they need to do their best work. They just might surprise you.

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