What kind of leaders do we need today? Steve Jobs — mysterious, charismatic, intriguing — is often cited as one of the recent greats, and there are clearly benefits to his style. A recent study showed that leaders like him — those perceived as having an almost magical aura — are seen as visionary, with employees and customers clamoring to touch the hem of their garments. But that kind of leadership also has its limitations.
Succession is made harder by a towering and mysterious personality (good luck, Tim Cook). And, even more importantly, there’s no formula for becoming charismatic. You could try to model others — emulating Jobs’ cool reserve, exacting standards, and mercurial temper, for instance. But the nuances are subtle; you’re just as likely to come off as aloof or entitled, rather than intriguing. The harder, but more rewarding, path as a leader is to make yourself known — to your employees, your customers, and the public. Here are three reasons the new leadership imperative is all about transparency.
To know you is to love you. Well, love might be strong. But you want your employees to at least like you and understand where you’re coming from — because, as copious research has shown, money isn’t a good motivational tool. Rather, what will make them go above and beyond is their relationship and loyalty to you — and you’ll never get that if you don’t let them know you as a person. (Customers, being human, also like to form relationships with real people, not just faceless organizations.) Lunch meetings and feedback sessions are a great place to start, and if you’re managing across continents or your workforce is simply too large, don’t underestimate the power of video. Your personality and enthusiasm can come through just as clearly on YouTube. (A great example is this 2009 video featuring Best Buy Chief Marketing Officer Barry Judge, in which he explains his philosophy of marketing and how the company should interact with customers.)
Transparency is brand insurance. Paul Levy was the CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, one of the nation’s best. In 2006, he launched a blog, then called “Running a Hospital,” which took the bold step of putting his unvarnished thoughts into the public realm, sans PR gloss. He drew accolades for his openness (posting the hospital’s infection rates) and sharing personal touches, such as his passion for coaching youth soccer. Over years of dedicated blogging — with literally thousands of posts — he built up a reservoir of goodwill. (Noted Boston magazine in 2009, “Through discipline, openness to criticism and feedback, and, yes, a certain amount of golly-gee enthusiasm, Levy has taken the most self-indulgent medium of 21st-century communication and turned it into a business tool as sharp as any scalpel.”) And it turned out he’d need it. The following year, Levy admitted to “lapses of judgment in a personal relationship” involving a female former employee. He kept his job but had to pony up a $50,000 fine; he resigned half a year later. It was an ignominious end to a respected nine-year tenure — but thanks to his blog (where he posted an apology), the blow was softened considerably. Today, he continues to weigh in on healthcare using the very same blog – albeit with a new, self-deprecating title: “Not Running a Hospital.” Transparency didn’t save Paul Levy from making a thoughtless mistake that negatively impacted his career. But it did earn him a degree of understanding and a continuing platform to opine about his field and stay in the mix.
You attract like-minded talent. Blogging started out as a cry in the wilderness. (Back then, it was known as “online journaling.”) Aren’t there any other left-handed gay sushi chefs out there? The business case for blogging, tweeting, and the rest of social media is a lot stronger these days. But the result, in many ways, is the same — by putting your voice out there, you attract others who are like-minded. If you’re a company with a unique set of corporate values (think Zappos), you can broadcast your culture and draw in people who think they’d be a fit. And if you’re a venture capitalist — whose livelihood depends on scouting new talent and forging close ties with the best — then it’s especially important to show people who you are, how you think, and what you’re looking for. That’s what happened for Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, whose blog has been a powerful magnet, enabling him to invest in hot deals early. Each post draws at least 100 comments — sometimes closer to 400 — and has positioned him, 3000 miles away from Silicon Valley, as an industry thought leader.
Whether it’s in person (through speeches, meetings, or one-on-one interactions) or leveraging social media, it’s more essential than ever for leaders to embrace transparency. Employees, customers, and shareholders need to understand your vision, your values, and your approach. That doesn’t mean putting on an aura of mystique, because if it’s not coming naturally, people can see through it. Instead, the new leadership imperative is to make yourself known.
What kind of leaders do you think we need? How are you making yourself known to your colleagues, employees, and customers? What results are you seeing?
This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review website on April 11, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.