Why Transparency Is the Hallmark of a Great Leader

There are many ways to run a successful company, but some practices are almost guaranteed to help you along the way. One of those, according to three founders of fast-growing companies, is transparency. 

Carey Smith, the founder of Big Ass Fans and Unorthodox Ventures; Diana Lee, the co-founder and CEO of Constellation Agency; and Nicole Sahin, the founder and CEO of Globalization Partners, agreed that transparency is an essential leadership trait, especially in difficult times. They spoke about the state of business today at a virtual town hall Monday moderated by Inc. editor-in-chief Scott Omelianuk. The discussion was part of the 2020 Inc. 5000 Vision Conference, a weeklong virtual event celebrating entrepreneurship and this year’s Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies.

The panelists offered advice to business leaders who are seeking to soften the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on both their companies’ bottom lines and their cultures. “I don’t think it’s a weakness to tell people that as a company you have a problem,” said Smith, who led Big Ass Fans through the Great Recession without laying off employees or taking big revenue losses. “If you weren’t honest, if you weren’t transparent, I think every problem could be worse.” He added that he believes his company’s honesty was one of the reasons it grew so quickly and dominated its sector.

Honesty and openness have benefits outside of crisis situations, too. Sahin noted that as your company grows, you’ll need to make more difficult decisions and encourage employees to contribute great ideas, and being truthful helps inspire trust and motivate your team. Lee recounted a meeting with a potential client who asked if she was doing work for one of the client’s competitors; in order to close the deal, Lee lied and said no. She soon realized that was a mistake and admitted the truth to the client, because she didn’t want their relationship to be based on a lie. “You can win a deal and lose yourself,” Lee said. “You can win over your team but lose yourself, and at the end, the price is too high.”

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