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There have been several articles over the past couple of weeks relative to ‘transparency’ that have caught my attention. Howard Schultz, head of Starbucks, recently went so far as to say the currency of leadership is transparency.

Evidently, transparency is an expectation of the Millennials as they enter the workforce in this digital age.  The thought is because the Internet is open to everyone, it essentially is the great leveler … with Social Media paving the way for this reality with Twitter often becoming a primary source of news sometimes far in advance of CNN.

From a traditional definition standpoint, transparency alludes to being translucent, or being able to see through something. But, how does it translate from a business standpoint?  Is this achievable as a leader within the organization? Following are some of the snippets from various articles that caught my attention:

  • … necessity for being open and honest and providing recommendations for building an organization where this can occur.
  • … transparency is the bridge between truth and clarity, and its the action that keeps a business honest.
  • … the truth is going to come out sooner or later. All the information will reveal itself, whether you want it to or not. If you’re not transparent, the truth will start as gossip, and people will take the gossip as truth because that’s the only “information” they have to hang onto.
  • … But, at this point, there really is no choice about whether to be transparent. Anyone with access to social media can see what is going on in most corporations

In principle, I don’t disagree with any of these statements.  But the more I read, the more I began to wonder if this new movement in leadership some are calling transparency isn’t really just referring to a much older leadership principle called integrity.  Dictionary.com defines it this way …

Integrity (noun)

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished:

It other places, I have seen additional context suggesting integrity comprehends the whole moral character, but has special reference to uprightness in mutual dealings. In short, let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.

In my opinion, this is the essence of what the articles I read were ultimately getting at … the point that IF leaders within organizations acted with integrity (honesty, truth, consistency in character) THEN they will have the trust or their employees and the confidence of the market. To me, this isn’t necessarily the same thing as being transparent.

I recently watched the movie Interstellar with my family, and the following conversation between Matthew McConaughey (Cooper) and the robot TARS came to mind …

Cooper: Hey TARS, what’s your honesty parameter?
TARS: 90 percent.
Cooper: 90 percent?
TARS: Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic nor the safest form of communication with emotional beings.
Cooper: Okay, 90 percent it is.

Without spoiling too much if you haven’t seen it, this simple conversation plays out in a big way later in the movie … and it also plays out in our roles as product management leaders.

The reality is there will be times where we cannot (or should not) share 100% of what is going on.  It might be related to M&A activities that cannot be divulged; or it might be because of a strict NDA (like the one imposed upon us by Apple when we launch Apple Pay); or it might be related more to sensitive HR activities; or a host of other possible examples that I have personally dealt with over the years.

BUT … that doesn’t mean we should resort to dishonest behavior.  There are ways to handle these situations with Integrity such that you don’t divulge sensitive or confidential information while at the same time maintain trust within the organization.

This is how I lead … and how I would prefer to be led.

Sources … if you want to dig deeper …