I Can See Right through You

I Can See Right through You

Welcome to the latest installment on Leadership Lexicon. See prior posts on Relationships, Responsibility, and being Approachable.

It is popular to say that the best leaders are transparent. I have defined that concept in this way:

WBS Dictionary: Transparent means that the leader has no secret agenda and does not keep other operational secrets. There is no second set of books. There is no sharing of insider information. There is no self-dealing ( No playing politics (5.2.3). No deception (5.2.5). Transparency suggests that you can see right through someone or a situation. Nothing is hidden. All organizations have certain matters that are not for publication, such as a human resources action or negotiations on mergers that would affect markets. Confidentiality is appropriate. Transparency is appropriate. And both can exist side by side without conflict.


One adage suggests that with transparent people, what you see is what you get. They deal with you honestly, do not play games, and have the courage to tell you “I don’t know” rather than load you up with a bunch of BS. You trust people who are transparent. And they consistently give you reason to build that trust.

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything,” is a quote attributed to Mark Twain. This is the transparent leader. They “open their kimono” as the saying goes and do not try to obfuscate or confuse. If all you are remembering is the truth, it is much easier than trying to weave a web of lies and remember all the different aspects to the lies.

Testing Veracity

In my corporate days where internal investigations were a routine part of the job, I used several techniques to test a person’s veracity. One of them was to create a timeline of a person’s story. A simple listing of events in a story will often show inconsistencies and possible subterfuge. The transparent person doesn’t worry about getting “caught” since they have put everything out on the table.

Secretive People

When a leader tries to hide things from the team, the odds are good that they will be found out. Once this happens, trust is broken and the person in the leadership role will have their leadership journey derailed. Trust is very difficult to rebuild if, in fact, it can be done at all. When you act in a consistently transparent manner, you never have to worry about this.

It might surprise some, but it is easy to discern those who are dealing with you with a clear conscience. Those who are hiding things, unless they are pure sociopaths, will have guilt for the deception and it will reflect in their manners, attitude, body language, and word choice. The sustained leader learns to read these cues.

Holding Confidences

Confidential matters should not be aired in a public forum. We all have a variety of skeletons in our respective closets and those events can and should stay in your past. A possible exception might be when you are seeking a public position that requires a high level security clearance. In those cases the real issue is not your improper behavior, but whether someone with knowledge of it could use it to blackmail you into revealing secret data. Even so, while that information might be known to the government, there is no reason that these matters should be  disclosed outside of that limited audience.

Similarly in business there are matters that are not designed for public consumption. Human resource decisions, internal investigations, and confidential business information that could be used against a company by its competitors should remain confidential. In some cases, wrongful disclosures can lead to criminal consequences. Within transparency there comfortably exists a sphere of confidentiality. On a personal level, we do not disclose personal or embarrassing information about family or friends. That sort of “gossip-mongering” reflects poorly on your character.

Starting Over

We all have our share of “youthful indiscretions” that we would prefer to leave in our youth. Who we were then is not who we are now. There is, and should be, a “start over” button to the various phases of our life.  Leave your errors in the past, learn from them, and start today to rebuild your character. As a sustained leader you have learned from your past errors in judgement and are now a wiser person. Being transparent does not require the complete airing of all of our dirty laundry from the day we were born. It’s a certainty that we all crapped our diapers.

This material is derived from the book Sustained Leadership WBS and is found in section Transparent. Buy the book here

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With an extensive career in government contracting, Tom has found many examples, both good and bad, of leadership. These posts are based on his latest book, Sustained Leadership WBS, published by Morgan James. Tom is available to speak to your team on the importance of developing sustained leaders.


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