Transparency and Naked Leadership

There is much discussion about transparency in government especially as it relates to Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, twitter, and various social networking applications.  Transparency in a literal sense simply means to be able to see right through something.  Definitions and common understanding in a government context varies.  But it is generally understood to suggest doing things in such a way that citizens know what’s going on.  Thus, accountability is increased and corruption is decreased.  Scantily clothed emperor admiring his new clothes


But, this means more than just putting data up on static websites.  Leading in a transparent way has the atomic advantage of being able to be exposed to a huge set of diverse ideas thus hastening innovation and creativity.  However, the cultural challenges associated with leading in this environment requires a new kind of personal leadership – Naked Leadership. 


Topless at NASA/JPL Explorer Island – Maybe Some Things Should Not Be Seen


I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on virtual worlds for the FOSE 2009 Conference. This panel was going to be conducted in the virtual world Second Life.  I had to get an avatar and learn some basic things like walking, sitting, flying, and dressing. 


While practicing and setting some things up in the familiar venue of NASA/JPL Explorer Island, I decided that I wanted my avatar to look like me – African American non-skinny female with brown hair, etc. I was surprised to find out that up to that point, I was a man and not a woman.  I fixed that.  I thickened up my body and lips.  Then I had to decide what to wear. I struggled with basic things like the difference between a blouse and a jacket, etc.  To make a long story short, I took off more than I planned to take off and ended up topless in a surprisingly anatomically accurate way. I was mortified. Fortunately, there were only deer around.


The point here is that as we operate and lead in transparent ways, you might be exposed in non-complementary ways.  It may also mean, especially in this day and age of increased risks associated with data security, some stuff just should not be exposed.  And finally, what does what you’re hiding expose about you as a leader?


“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

 Oscar Wilde


Naked Leadership means that you may make a few mistakes…but you’ll have to take it on the chin. Some could be knock out blows. However, managing the risks appropriately can lead to championship results.


The Emperor’s New Clothes – Don’t Believe the Hype


So this guy decides that he will don a new transparent wardrobe.  Everyone wrote comments in the Emperor’s blog about how great his transparent threads were.  A courageous follower told him he had no clothes.


You may find a lot of people with varying levels of sincerity who tell you that you’re doing a heck-of-a-job.  Similarly, you may even find some people in a mean-spirited way tell you that you are awful.  So, brace for impact, get prepared to have your feelings hurt and immunize yourself against flattery.


But I, as Emperor, was OVERPOWERINGLY stupid… I, as Emperor, was more stupid than you all, because I was responsible for all this stupidity!

 1987 Movie: The Emperor’s New Clothes


With Naked Leadership goes the responsibility of doing honest self-examination and having high emotional intelligence.  It also requires seeking out and nurturing courageous followers who will tell you are indeed you have no clothes.


Who Told You That You Were Naked? – With Knowledge Comes Accountability and Responsibility


I once went to a church where the Pastor would always say … “I wish I didn’t know these things!”  Once you know right from wrong, you have the responsibility to choose right. And once you know, you have to do something and it has to be the right thing.  It might be better to not know.


Knowledge also imposes responsibility

– W.M.L. Jay


Diverse opinions from a diverse set of people may breed conflicts. Naked Leadership will require strong conflict resolution skills.  Some information may not be relevant. Naked Leadership will need to be able to discern that. But, if you ask for perspectives, you better be prepared to actually listen and try to understand. 


Operating in a transparent way helps provides a lot of value.  Expanded perspectives from a diverse set of employees or constituents can produce better end products.  Successful Naked Leadership will need to learn to navigate these waters. 


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


3 thoughts on “Transparency and Naked Leadership”

  1. I have not yet seen a Leader (who is worthy to follow) without courage and convictions. I have also noticed that he/she is accuetly aware of his/her vulnerable self. Ye,transparency needs courage and convictions; it may create conflicts; but it has great results, including learning and growth. Growth is a fun yet painful process.

  2. Wonderfully presented thoughts, thanks! What can also be a take away here is the need for leaders to be open to and in fact welcome ‘constructive feedback’. As you know this is critical so both the leadership and the organization can continue to perform well and/or improve wherever possible. Making some rule around how to offer constructive feedback, then making it safe, are great ways to get started.

    Thank you!

    Corde Wagner

  3. Hi Linda,

    I am glad that you have discovered the concept of Naked leadership (R) something that I developed and began teaching the corporate world over a decade ago. Openess and honesty is essential in any position of authority. In My book Naked Leadership (2005) we extensively explore the why’s and hows of this concept in the workplace and in life and how the leader has to become an Umpire first and then a Coach. This because leadership is never about the leader-it is about the team. It is not what we know but what they know and believe that is the key to directing an organisation and we can only find this out by disengaging our egos, asking questions and really listening to what is being said, not simply waiting to talk. In Naked Leadership, the leader does 20% of the talking and the team member 80%. We then have a solid basis for decision making. The emperor in the tale was 100% about himself and as we have seen recently, that will eventually bring disaster.

    David Bentley

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