When leading teams and projects, it’s sometimes difficult to strike a balance between being open and honest with your team and concealing your thoughts and feelings to present a more positive and potentially “professional” appearance.
If a leader is angry, frustrated or otherwise upset, would you rather they tried to keep it hidden, or to show it?
There are pros and cons to each approach and once again, it’s a delicate balancing act. Most of us have heard of authentic leadership which is all the rage these days. But what are the ramifications of being transparent with your teams?
The downside of being too open and honest at work in front of your team
Being too open and honest at work can make you seem like a “weak” leader
Some people are always going to perceive people who show their frustrations as “weaker” than their stoic counterparts. It always depends on your team, but showing that the situation is getting to you may give the appearance that you can’t handle the task at hand – whether or not that really is the case.
Being too open and honest with your feelings can leave you exposed to people with an agenda
If you are very open with your team, it’s always a good idea to exercise caution. Especially if you’re ranting and raving about a customer or another person in the organisation. This is never really a smart idea and if someone is waiting for a chance to strike at you, they can easily spread the word that you were badmouthing one of your colleagues.
Being too open and honest with your feelings can decrease the confidence of your team
For me, this is one of the most critical points. If you voice your frustrations and challenges openly in front of your teams, they may lose confidence in you. They may feel as if they are on a death march project where there is little chance of success. Your team may also feel that if they are part of a failing project, it could also reflect badly on them during performance reviews or in the perceptions of their colleagues.
Some people are also sensitive to negative emotions in the workplace, which means you need to try to remain positive even when times are tough – a difficult task indeed!
The upside of being open and honest in your communication
Being open with your communication flattens the team structure
Being open and honest with your feelings in front of your team can create a sense of camaraderie and reduce the perceived gap between the you and your team members. This is because you are exposing a vulnerable side of yourself to your team, which says you:
- Trust your team to do the right thing by you
- Are confiding in your team and are open to advice
- Care enough about what you’re doing that it produces an emotional reaction
- Are shouldering the burden for the team – so you probably won’t throw them under the bus!
Being open and honest with your team shows them that you need their help
Some stoic leaders have a “stiff upper lip” attitude that implies that they can handle everything and they’ll take it all in their stride. I like the opposite approach. I can’t handle everything without the help and the support of my team. Communicating openly and honestly can strengthen the intent of team members to help and provide support, giving them a greater sense of purpose. “He needs me to do well here, otherwise we’ll be in trouble”.
I’ll admit, I sometimes struggle to balance being open and honest with my teams and the “resilient leader” approach, often falling too far towards the open and honest end of the scale. It depends heavily on the type of team you have and whether you can trust them or not. I’ve been fortunate to lead great teams that haven’t seemed to mind my approach, but I can always do better!
Look around your team and observe how your approach affects them. Are you opening up too much? Or are you a closed book?