Editor’s note: This weekly column by Triangle veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson delivers real-time, easily digestible leadership actions you can take to build a better workplace, become a highly productive, future-ready leader and improve your leadership impact today. Stay tuned to WRAL Techwire each Wednesday for the next edition, as lessons build atop each other. Most recently, we talked about reversing toxic cultures


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Transparency is a crucial part of being a future-ready business leader, as the pandemic shift to remote and hybrid workplaces has proven throughout the past two years. Leaders and organizations with poor communication practices have openly suffered the consequences, losing valuable employees, struggling to hire quality candidates and often being labeled as toxic places to work. 

Today, every leader I know will tell you the importance of clear and consistent communication, and most have invested heavily in teams and protocols that improve transparency. Yet for many of us who were raised under the old-school, command-and-control style of leadership, transparency can feel straight-up scary. 

Many of us were taught that being professional meant being confident and polished, presenting ourselves as always composed in order to be seen as worthy and competent. By being flawless, we could inspire our teams’ confidence in our leadership abilities. But transparency calls for a totally different type of professional behavior in the workplace.

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

Modern leadership demands authenticity, vulnerability and humility. Now, we’re supposed to admit what we don’t know, concede when we’re wrong and talk about ourselves as whole, complex people, not just executives. Where we were once taught never to acknowledge our mistakes, because we would be seen as weak, we are now encouraged to apologize openly as a sign of strength instead. That can be a scary shift.

Here’s the key piece I want you to know. If you’re in leadership, it truly does not matter how you feel about transparency. Whether you’re scared of it, annoyed by it or frustrated to think you have to share your personal feelings at work, your employees are demanding transparency from their leaders, so you’d better get on board. This isn’t just about preparing for the future. It’s the new way business works.

At a granular level, two ways to improve your leadership impact through better communication are by following my four rules for excellent delegation and best practices for professional development conversations. At the organizational level, here are four more ways you can improve transparency and communication, leading to greater productivity, engagement, morale, culture and results.


Don’t underestimate the power of something as simple as a monthly round-up email to your team. Even in the months where you think there’s nothing important that you need to say, I guarantee they still want to hear from you. Remember, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A bulleted list is enough sometimes. 

One great practice is to keep a running document of notes to yourself about things you want to address, whether that means sharing resources for various cultural holidays like Pride Month and allyship, talking about your own professional development, reiterating important upcoming deadlines, or simply sharing a personal story from a networking conversation you enjoyed. 

Stories can be a terrific way to tie your personal brand as a leader to the mission, vision and values of your company, so think about what you want to say through that lens. For instance, in my own firm where flexibility and curiosity are core values, I might tell a story about an employee who was flexible and curious in one particular meeting and hold them up as a model of inclusive leadership behavior. Or, I might highlight something I learned from a friend that reminded me why flexibility is key to great business and great teamwork.

Two other practices I recommend are blocking half an hour every Monday or Friday to write those paragraphs ahead of time, and recording yourself via Zoom or Google Meet, then sharing the video and audio files with your team. A quick, three-minute, off-the-cuff video takes very little of your time, requires equally little time from your employees and can create a strong sense of connectedness, especially in large organizations and fully remote teams


Don’t overcommit to frequent communication if you know you’re likely to drop the habit in a few months. First of all, no matter how much your team loves you, I bet they don’t want to hear from you every week. And second, remember that consistency is key. Choose a regular communication timeline you know you can be 100% sure of, then stick to it like glue. 

Knowing when and how they’ll hear from you helps employees feel safe and included. When you’re sending emails and video messages erratically, they’re more likely to feel intrusive and/or critical. But when communication is reliable and expected, employees know to make it part of their workflow, and the things you have to say won’t feel so personal, detracting or reactionary. 

Predictable, repeated communication also gives you a chance to reiterate key messages, like expectations for behavior, since we know that people need to hear the same thing numerous times before they can absorb it (and even more times before they’re able to integrate it into their usual flow of work). 


Transparency improves morale and productivity not because employees just love hearing from their bosses, but because every point of communication gives them an open opportunity to ask questions, give feedback and contribute their ideas. Seize those opportunities. Use every outward communication as a chance to solicit feedback too. By doing so, you create a cycle of communication that inspires trust and teamwork. 

My suggestion is to end your message with clear instructions for how and when you want employees to respond, which questions you want them to ask or answer, and how they can expect to hear from you afterward. For instance, if you’re sending a five-minute vlog that says “Here’s how I want you to improve your productivity through better prioritization this week,” you might send that video attached to a short email that says “I’d like everyone to watch this video and respond by end-of-day Friday naming their top three priorities for next week.” 

Then, here’s the key. You need to follow up. Otherwise, you’re having a one-way conversation, not a true dialogue. By taking action after that initial communication, you prove to employees that you actually read what they sent, and you demonstrate that transparency and feedback go both ways. 

Sometimes, you’ll need to send personal responses, but more often, you can send a single response to the group saying something like “I want to let you know I read everyone’s responses to my vlog last week, and I’m impressed to see how many of you listed product development and recruiting as your top priorities. I like that you are looking to the future to prioritize what’s important, not only what’s urgent.” 


Despite their success, many of the truly great leaders in my network still feel uncomfortable speaking casually in their own voices with their teams. The biggest advice I can offer here is simple reassurance. Your team wants to hear from you as a human being, not as a starchy, stilted corporate spokesperson. They want to know how you are thinking about things, what’s top of mind for you at this moment, what’s next and how they can contribute to success. Transparency is difficult because vulnerability is scary, but I promise it’s ok to be yourself. 

Of course, you want to be kind, compassionate and humble, but you shouldn’t feel like you need perfect grammar or a vocabulary full of three-syllable words to speak with purpose and power to your team. Just make sure you do the work to learn about inclusive workplace language, and remember that concise, consistent messages are always better than long-winded speeches. Otherwise, be yourself. 

Admit what you don’t know. Commit to continued learning. Be vulnerable, be ready to learn, and be helpful when you can be. Contractions are OK. Imperfect phrasing is OK. And stumbling through your thoughts is OK too. Those things only emphasize that you’re human.

By modeling transparency and vulnerability, you create psychological safety and trust, leading to better business outcomes. In that way, transparency works to create a more rich and dynamic workplace culture where people feel valued, included and encouraged to contribute their best work, consistently. 

About the Author

Donald Thompson is co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement which offers an employee-experience product suite that personalizes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through data, technology, and expert-curated content. Their microlearning platform, Microvideos by The Diversity Movement, was recently named one of Fast Company’s “2022 World Changing Ideas.” With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, Donald is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture and driving exponential growth. An entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach, Donald also serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. His autobiography, Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, is available for pre-order now. Connect with or follow him on Linkedin to learn more. 

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