Becoming a Transparent Leader to Achieve Wonders

The story I want to tell you today came to pass in 2015. It was a time at which notions of inclusivity as we know them today were neither front page news nor part of any corporate culture playbook.

At the time, I was heading a team that led the revamping of a global and iconic brand that for decades had leveraged a hyper-masculine image. We wanted to balance the image a bit, to appeal to a broader range of consumers.

I was the first woman to oversee this brand at my level. Instinct told me that for this brand to move away from its über-male image and start a journey towards greater inclusivity, it would require a feminine touch behind the scenes. This would enable a fresh viewpoint and, critically, move away from macho iconography that the men previously in charge promoted.

A group of us women came together from a worldly set of backgrounds: Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Iran, Colombia, France. The power in this diversity enabled more nuanced differences with culture and gender markers in branding. This valuable collaboration was truly indispensable for the refurbishment of this global and iconic brand.

Our team truly was magical. But the real spark resided in the way we conducted ourselves around concepts of participation and transparency. It was a remarkable first in our industry, and one where we collaborated in a way I had never experienced.

Take the way in which we worked on our objectives. Every year, our process was a shared visioning lab. As a team, we started exploring what we wanted to achieve, first looking at what we wanted to stand for as a team, as a department. How did we want to be seen, what ethos did we want to project outward and inspire others with? This wasn’t an exercise in vanity, It was an opportunity to form a dedicated mission, purpose and rallying cry.

A participatory approach

It was also incredibly important to me to consider who was in the room. The professional aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, personal affinities inside of these colleagues. All of this was poured into the foundation of how we would behave as a collective. As a leader, it was my job to nurture and respect these personal markers as we weaved them into our deliverables.

This participatory approach enabled us to become a top team, rather than a disjointed cluster of top talent. Most importantly, this participation meant that my success was theirs, and vice versa.


Image by LinkedIn Sales Solutions

The other ingredient that made us stand out was transparency, during the performance review phase of our company. Much like we started the cycle, we went into closing it as a team. Before anything was put on paper, we sat down and reflected together.

What went well? What didn’t? What had changed throughout the year that potentially forced us to change course? What did we learn together and how did our collective intelligence grow? These candid post-mortems were conducted with full openness and flexible mindsets.

The team’s performance reviews were done, it was time for mine. I did something that raised a few eyebrows, but later became something others started to emulate. I assembled my team and shared my performance review. Like I said before, my success was theirs, and theirs was mine. Both victories and failures belonged to us collectively and the more data points we could inspect as a team, the richer we would be for it. The openness I adopted as a leader helped us all learn together and grow together.

This went against the grain. Ours was a high stakes project in a giant multinational. Temptations to be pulled into a more command-and-control style of leadership were abundant. But here is the kicker: command-and-control creates fear. Fear of speaking up, fear of making mistakes, fear of dreaming big and being creative. Transparency and a participatory approach on the other hand, create trust and the knowledge that we rely on each other, that we are responsible for each other’s well-being and success.

And honestly: isn’t that how it is supposed to be? I can’t recommend more than to open yourself as a leader and really make your team part of the decision making, feedback reviews, and more. This allows for greater buy-in from them and truly magical results for all!

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