There’s a reason why always and never should not be used lightly.
The challenge with very young children is, it takes a while to develop the ability to reason. So, like the parent I aspired to be, I took the time to explain why. Maybe explain again. And again.
Eventually, one day, I lost my patience with “why”. There was an important lesson happening – like running with scissors – and the very reasonable explanations were not getting through. I finally ended the discussion with “because I said so.”
Now we’re to age seven, and our son’s cognitive ability has developed to the point where he has his own good reasons why he does and does not want to do something. I’m just waiting for the day that I hear from him “because I said so.”
Do you remember being young and hearing those words? How it made you feel?
I do. I remember feeling anger and resentment. Often confusion, because I did not understand why something was more important than what I wanted to do. Or why it needed to be done at all.
It made me want to resist…compliance with kicking and screaming, not acquiescence.
As leaders, how often do we say “because I said so?” Hopefully, not often. However, if we do not provide a context, or the why, we may get the same result. The same resentful compliance, instead of proactive engagement most of us aspire to.
Leaders Show Their Work
My early leadership examples were all Marines. Most of us may correlate “military” with “orders.” To a degree, this is true. However, as a civilian employee, I was afforded the ability to ask “why.”
Like any developing employee, and later developing leader, I had little context for what I was being asked to do. As a result, I asked “why” A LOT.
Fortunately, my leaders took the time to answer my questions. They helped me supplement what I already knew, allowing me to move forward with a clear understanding. So that over time, I could ask fewer questions and get to execution faster.
They taught me something else. Not only did they listen to my questions and challenges, they changed direction when I brought something up they had not considered.
In the rarest instances, my questions and challenges were stopped and I was told to move forward. I heard the order in their voice. I heard the “because I said so.”
Early on, I felt resentment. I was convinced something critical was being missed. Over time, I recognized that there must be context I was missing. That I needed to have faith that they explained what they could and they heard my concerns, but we still needed to move forward.
The Steps to Leadership Transparency
As leaders, we do not have to be Marines to show our work, address the “why’s” of our teams, and change course when we receive new information. We just need to be committed to being transparent and showing our work.
There will be occasions when we will want to say “because I said so.” It takes time to provide an explanation. Time we may feel we do not have.
How many of us really work in a life and death situation? Unless we are physically in harms way, we have the time. We must make the time.
There will be times when we cannot explain. We explain what we can, when we can. We will change course when it makes sense.
For those times we cannot explain or change course, we must ask our teams to take us on faith. To listen, consider first, and then ask for the trust that we have heard them and must move forward as planned. To trust we have their best interests at heart.
To develop that trust, we follow the steps to leadership transparency:
- Show our work – take time to explain the why
- Listen – hear out alternative views
- Consider – evaluate new information against the decision
- Change direction – when it is advisable, and possible
Leap of Faith
One woman, early in our working relationship, was adamantly opposed to a course of action I knew we needed to take. I took the hours and days to explain my position. She took the same time to explain hers.
I was frustrated. With myself. I could not figure out what I was failing to say to convince her this was the right thing to do. So I stopped trying.
Instead, I asked her to trust me. I knew it was early in our relationship, but I let her know I had heard her and had done my best to help her understand my position.
Finally, I explained that there was one thing I could not share – my 20 years of experience. That everything in me – all of my history doing this type of work – was screaming that we needed to move forward in a particular direction.
She decided to trust me and move forward with my recommendation. Months later, she understood why I was so adamant. She now had enough experience in the environment to fill in a piece of the puzzle she did not have before. Now my request made sense.
She had to take a leap of faith that I was seeing something that she could not. To move forward until she could see it as well.
Ironically, the same son who continually asks “why” is now expected to show his work at school. He has to explain why the answer is correct. It is not enough to be right.
As leaders, it is not enough to be right. Showing our work helps employees develop their own context for decision-making. It allows them to repeat or adjust the formula because they can see the work behind it, ultimately creating knowledgeable and thoughtful leaders instead of followers.
Do you believe transparency is important in our leaders, and as leaders? How do you show your work? I would love if you could share your experience in the comments and keep the conversation going.