The world tends to operate on the ‘fake it til you make it’ principle. The basic idea is to act like you know what you’re doing until you actually do. There’s some goodness behind this sentiment, that we need to believe that we are capable of rising to the challenge and succeeding. However, it can also be incredibly damaging as well. We come to our jobs day after day hoping to succeed. When success doesn’t arrive we are often frustrated and discouraged, which is a natural response to disappointment.
There are numerous reasons that we might not experience success, but I believe one of the biggest ones is remaining quiet. Why might we remain quiet? Fear. Fear that I might lose my job if I’m found incompetent, fear of ridicule and belittlement, fear that people won’t trust me, fear that I am a liability, fear that it’s easier to replace me than train me, on and on. Another huge reason is pride. You may seeing yourself as needing no one else, believing you are completely self-sufficient, wanting to be a maverick, despising authority, or believing others are inferior to you. Believe it or not, remaining quiet is one of the biggest detriments to your success. How do you expect to overcome your challenges in isolation? Are you going to look up YouTube videos, articles, or take a training course? Those are all good things, but every employment situation is unique, and requires specifics that can’t always be obtained through educational resources. Worse yet, is if your manager sees you struggling and offers to help, but you reject it (whether initially or passively over time) out of fear or pride.
So what do we do? How should we respond? I propose the idea of radical transparency. Two powerful words. First, let’s talk about transparency. The idea is that you’re allowing someone else to ‘see through you’. Our natural inclination is to put up walls so people can’t see in. Transparency means you break those walls down, or at least install a few windows. We need to be vulnerable enough to share our fear of failure, to ask for help and guidance, and to communicate honestly in your working relationships. We need to be transparent with those around us and over us in our work. The worst thing you can do is become an immovable brick building with no windows, entrance or exits. That type of building is less than desirable.
Second, is the word ‘radical’. I say radical because it feels that way to us. It feels like we should never speak of the things inside our minds and hearts. To overcome them feels even more difficult. Find a trusted manager and open up to them, not inhibited by fear. Ask them for help and guidance, with a humble attitude ready to learn. It certainly feels radical in the beginning, but it doesn’t have to remain that way. Combining these two words to encourage us to speak out with our biggest fears that are holding us back.
Over the past few years, I’ve observe some personal experiences that show the benefits of radical transparency. In the company I work for, change management is a huge thing. Our executives do an excellent job giving us appropriate insight into the discussions that happen among this exclusive team. This often means sharing things that may feel uncomfortable to some, yet doing so in the interest of transparency and allowing us to respond and prepare for any change before the rubber hits the road. This has provided a level of clarity and trust that I have never seen before in any executive leadership.
Personally, I’ve also experienced many times when I have sought out a trusted individual for guidance on a particular problem, issue or topic. I’ve been challenged, guided and given investment in ways that would not be possible if I had kept silent. I have learned much about myself and my role many times throughout the past few years whenever I have taken this approach. It’s actually become a go-to strategy to try and identify the problem and a person with experience to help me out. I highly recommend it.
Another key benefit to this approach is the sense of ownership. When problems or challenges arise, it’s easy to point fingers at all the others who hold responsibility. When we do this, we’re playing the blame game. In every situation, you have some responsibility. Sometimes it may be great, and other times very small. The point is that you own your responsibility, and take action on it. Let me be clear: your responsibility doesn’t mean you’re causing the situation. However, don’t swing the other way and assume you’re not contributing to it. Taking appropriate ownership and doing something about it is a key skill to develop and radical transparency fosters that mentality.
The idea of radical transparency can be incredibly empowering, but if mistaken it can be damaging. Radical transparency mean identifying the biggest things that are holding you back and seeking out help. It does not mean speaking every fear you have. If you allow yourself to become a walking fear volcano, you’ll wind up burning people. You’ll demoralize those around you and promote a downward spiral in the workplace culture. Be open and honest, but also be wise. Openly speaking ill of others is unacceptable, find a manager or HR person to help you through that. However, sharing with a co-worker you admire about something is holding you back can promote a bond that can be encouraging and informative. Take care in how you speak, but do speak.
The basic idea of radical transparency can be summarized this way: find someone you respect that you believe has the skills and experience to help. Then, open up to that individual by radically revealing something in particular that is holding you back. The benefits of this humble transparency cannot be understated. Your growth as a professional will be magnitudes greater if you adopt this approach to your career. Good luck!