Leaders take note: the era of leadership transparency has arrived


A significant shift in leadership is afoot and it’s begun to impact leaders worldwide, spanning government, business, media and entrepreneurship. It’s been brewing for some time and we are now starting to see how it’s unraveling leadership as we’ve always known it and demanding more of our leaders.

Trust in global leadership is fast eroding in 2018. 2017 was described by the Edelman Trust Barometer (Edelman) as a ‘global implosion of trust’ and a ‘trust crisis.’ 2018 has been described as the ‘battle for truth.’ It’s no secret that confidence in executives, CEO’s, politicians and our media is wavering, as is our trust in large corporations. People are now indicating they consider their peers more credible than their leaders.

What’s driving this plummet in leadership trust?

There’s been a few catalysts that have created the perfect storm, namely the rise of the internet, the influence of the millennial workforce and the diversification of leadership pools. This has fundamentally resulted in a saturation of examples of conflict between what leaders say and what they do, or what they say and what the data says.

There are many examples of this across various industries

The most recent including the criticism of Barnaby Joyce defending the values of ‘traditional marriage’ during the Australian marriage equality debate whilst simultaneously engaging in an alleged affair with a subordinate – a matter compounded by the decision of mainstream media not to report during his New England by-election, the unprecedented amount of male leaders being called to account over alleged sexual harassment through the #metoo movement and some banks claiming they care about helping their customers to achieve their financial goals whilst questions have been raised about how their products actually benefit them.

Understandably, this has created cognitive dissonance amongst the masses. Disillusionment and dissatisfaction is growing and the nature of the modern world means it will likely get worse for leaders who fail to adapt.

The power of instant access

Notwithstanding the rise of ‘fake news’ in the modern world, we have faster access not only to the rest of the globe, but also to vast amounts of credible knowledge, data and technology. Our ability to acquire, analyse and make informed decisions on this basis is influencing decision making. Once our leaders were the sole source of data relied upon. Now we have the ability to source independent information and viewpoints to comparatively assess leadership credibility.

With the rise of social media and in turn, personal branding, we now have instant access to our leaders and a peak into their world. This has been both a benefit and detriment in many cases, the latter where effective branding strategy is lacking.

Trust is a precious commodity to be earned

We’re moving away from the hierarchical ‘tell-do’ relationship with leaders and evolving into partnerships. Millennials, in particular, are expecting our leaders to be experts in their field and to partner with talent utilising a mixture of nurture and mentorship. At a deeper level of personal branding, trust is no longer automatically given and now has to be earned by leaders. We’re already in a place where personal branding is the number one determiner between whether clients will choose to buy from you, voters to vote for you or employees to work with you. However, more than who you say you are, they want substance to prove it; the connection between what you say and what you actively do. Your personal character matters in leadership.

Diversification through independent platforms

Despite the fact that the diversification of leadership has been slower than watching grass grow, there are now more minority groups entering leadership in various ways across government, business and entrepreneurship. We are seeing a bigger variety of leaders with different backgrounds, cultures, experience and other demographics taking centre stage, some through their own independent platforms.

Now that the changing tides are here, how do leaders differentiate themselves?

Leaders who succeed in building genuine brands on a foundation of transparency and trust will be the only leaders who will achieve credibility moving forward.

It’s not enough to toot on about your values or write impassioned commitment statements about the problems you’re ‘aiming’ to solve. People want more. They want leaders to demonstrate how you are practically delivering on your promises and to see the measurable progress you’re making towards achievable outcomes.

The age of transparency is upon us. The single most important attribute of any leader moving forward will be leading with transparency. Soon, there will be nowhere left to hide.

Shevonne Joyce