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CIO Unplugged 11/15/10

November 15, 2010 Ed Marx 5 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

How Opaque is your Transparency?

All humans desire relationship. Solitary confinement is the greatest torture. A psychologist would tell you that no person can mentally survive being alone for long periods.

Even the entertainment industry knows this. One reason for the long-term success of the television hit Cheers is that the producers and writers tapped into our human need. Their theme dwells in the show’s chorus.

Be glad there’s one place in the world,
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came.
You wanna go where people know,
People are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

Leaders talk of transparency and its many forms — from quality outcomes to business performance to personal. Many opinions on the level of transparency arise, especially when it comes down to personal revelations. How open should you be with your manager, peers, and staff? Does familiarity really breed contempt? How much is too much information? Should there be a wall between professional and personal?

As I began my career, I wondered what it was like to be a manager or director, vice president, CEO, etc. I wondered how they prioritized, how they managed their time, and how they dealt with challenges. This was always a great mystery, and I wanted to know more. I longed to observe, learn, and understand the essentials and what it took to get there. Therefore, as my career journey unfolded, I elected to be as transparent as I hoped my management would be.

I recall the advice Captain Davies gave to us impressionable 2nd Lieutenants on this topic at our army engineer school. “I am all for hanging out with troops after hours. But once the conversation gets into work matters, I take leave.” I believe personal transparency carries more benefits that costs. I acknowledge the risks and am careful not to violate necessary confidences. And, like Captain Davies, I avoid discussing work matters.

One benefit of personal transparency is a friendlier work environment. When people see that you’re a genuine person and that you want to get to know them, you’re breaking down the walls between management and staff. Once people see your heart and understand your motives, they’ll be more compelled to follow.

Your authenticity will expand your level of influence. Over time, your proactive interest in others will increase their level of engagement. The fact that your manager knows you and cares about you can speak louder than an annual raise. People also enjoy the recognition that comes with the investment and gift of your time.

Another benefit is the opportunity to model appropriate behavior. Many emerging leaders have not seen management up close and may not know the protocol for social and business contexts. This can help remove the fear of interfacing with executives and understanding etiquette. 

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I employ the following to ensure a level of personal transparency:

  • Host annual wine, cheese, and chocolate parties for emerging leaders and significant others (my wife also helps spouses see the genuine human side of an executive).
  • Host annual Christmas parties at my home with leaders and their significant others.
  • Host in-home parties for teams to celebrate accomplishments.
  • Attend almost every event I’m invited to, including parties, weddings, and my favorite — RockBand jam sessions.
  • Attend funerals of an employee or his/her spouse.
  • Yammer (micro-blog) daily on my agenda and other items of interest, and sometimes offer an impromptu lunch.
  • Accept Facebook invites and Twitter followers from co-workers.
  • Participate in all work events, such as fundraisers, contests, and celebrations (dancing, sumo wrestling, etc).
  • Organize and participate in sport events.
  • Volunteer my home and time for work-related fundraisers.
  • Send handwritten notes saying “thank you” or “good job”.

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This open approach has greatly accelerated the development of relationships with my leaders and staff. Something magical happens when you put aside the pretenses and trappings of the formal work environment, let your guard down, and be who you truly are. Create a place where everyone knows your name and you also know theirs.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. Wow! I can honestly say that I found your blog article about maintaining up front and personal refreshing. In today’s over busy world, very few business professionals remember how important it is to let people know you care. Your blog was probably the first one that I’ve read through to the end because it kept me totally engaged until the end.

  2. I must say that this type of leadership really inspires me as a manager. Transparent leadership has made a big impact on my team and how they respond to change. The more open, caring and encouraging I have been… the more I get out of my team. Annual raises alone, will not retain your top talent.

  3. Ed – Please believe me when I say I’m not finding fault with any of what you say here. Far from it, but…

    just be aware that some people genuinely do not want much socializing with people from work. Some prefer to not be coerced into social engagements of any kind. A little, maybe, but beyond that, it becomes intrusive and unwelcome. We might be in a minority, but it’s perfectly legitimate for people to not want to participate – and hopefully you allow such people to decline social events without any repurcussions. I think you’d agree that allowing them that option is another way to build the trust you’re after.

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