Transparent truth: 7 Leadership traits for honest guidance

Trust, honor and ethics are core values that shape transparent leadership

The art of management and leadership requires an artistic analysis. Leadership and the transparency that should come with it isn’t about classes or degrees or certifications or licenses. Leadership is a demonstrated skill that is about action and transparency that is unambiguous and honest. Unambiguously honest actions – now there’s a thought!

Too many times, chiefs become chiefs through popularity contests, “good-ole-boy”/family networks, or by default, without the proper training, education or business acumen necessary to be chief. Business leaders don’t stay in business for long if they can’t demonstrate leadership skills.

Core leadership values

Too many times, chiefs become chiefs through popularity contests, “good-ole-boy”/family networks, or by default, without the proper training, education or business acumen necessary to be chief.
Too many times, chiefs become chiefs through popularity contests, “good-ole-boy”/family networks, or by default, without the proper training, education or business acumen necessary to be chief. (Photo/US Coast Guard)

Your core value should provide the basis for your moral and ethical performance. My three core values are:

  1. Trust. Ensuring that you and your people trust each other, and, more importantly, that you can instill the public trust in what you do. That trust is demonstrated by not only the chief, but by every member of your organization that is an extension of you.
  2. Honor. Establishing a sense of pride in your performance, appearance and historical reference is both an honor to hold and an honorable notion. We honor our fallen through the demonstration of safer gear, equipment and practices. We honor our profession by the demonstration of selfless life-threatening acts we are called to perform on a regular basis.
  3. Ethics. Morals and ethics are often intertwined, however here I’ll refer to ethics in terms of the tenets you follow and inconsistencies or violations of policy. Ethics are typically defined in gray-area terms, however there is usually a quantifiable right and/or a wrong. Our occasional unfortunate dilemma, however our responsibility, is that chiefs must always choose right. Sometimes, sound ethical choices are job- (usually not career-) ending moments for chiefs.

Leadership skills, including the values trust, honor and ethics, are developed through a combination of education and life experience. There are no “born leaders” and a Master’s degree or lack thereof does not make you or disqualify you as a leader.

It is important to recognize that each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. Our greatest weakness is usually our inability to admit our own weaknesses. My greatest self-admitted weakness (other than forgetting names) is my hard-core, continuous work ethic, that forgets to say “thank you” to those doing the work as often as I should.

To the meat of transparent truth – it is not difficult to search and find public demonstrations of leadership or lack of leadership. Even the untrained eye can see through a lack of transparency. Transparency cannot be a lie, any more than death cannot be life. Chiefs have a responsibility to be open, accurate, forthcoming, thorough, courageous and trust-instilling. You notice I did not use the words “friends,” “hiding,” “twisting the facts,” “lying” or “cowardice.”

7 leadership traits for transparency

Here are seven additional leadership traits to help you rise in transparency:

  1. Be Professional. First and foremost, professional does not equate to receiving a paycheck. Professionalism is a state of mind, a statement of education and the demonstration of action. Not one leadership, mentorship or management class I’ve attended has taught me how to lie. Those classes and experiences have taught me how to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.
  2. Be responsive. We have a responsibility to serve. Our Highlands County Fire Rescue mission statement is that simple word and statement of fact; “service.” Make sure you have a routine method of getting back to those who call upon you, whether by email, telephone, message or through any other means. Constituents, customers, residents, employees, volunteers, media, whomever it is, responsiveness is your responsibility. It is archaic to depend on the paper letter as the only means by which communication can be official (except in legally definitive terms). Call the media back – they can be your best friends or your worst enemies. Establishing a level of responsible responsiveness will be crucial to building relationships and managing issues when the stuff hits the fan.
  3. Be a source of outreach. Transparency doesn’t just come from responding to inquiries. Sometimes, the right thing to do means you’re out in front of the story before it becomes a story. This is the tricky part for chiefs – just because you decide to be transparent and get out in front of it, doesn’t give you a pass to lie or twist the truth. Your PIO, mentors or trained communicators can help you navigate those waters.
  4. Be a mentor. Helping others achieve a transparent leadership style is part of our responsibility. While there’s no such thing as perfection in this arena, there are thousands of demonstrations of mentorship for you to pick from – let’s just hope you choose the honest and forthright ones. Mentorship isn’t always about formal programs or cliché acronyms – I hope these articles are a form of mentorship for you.
  5. Be inspirational. Your actions and demonstrations of leadership provide the inspiration for others to serve. It’s easy to do the wrong thing, but when you can do the right thing and it shows, you knowingly or unknowingly become an inspiration for others who might be experiencing similar issues in their department.
  6. Be safety-minded. Sometimes, people do bad things. Our job as chiefs is to ensure we’ve not only demonstrated safe practices, but also provided every opportunity for others to learn and demonstrate work through safe practices and environments. When somebody does bad – it’s time for transparent-truth. Truth cannot be in the eye of the beholder. Everybody sees through the lies, and whether you form the opinion for them with transparency, or they form their own opinion through your negativity and dishonesty – an opinion will be formed, one way or the other.
  7. Be energetically enthusiastic. It’s hard to be chief. It’s even harder to be a happy and enthusiastic chief, however, the public you serve and the people you lead depend on your energy and enthusiasm to do the right thing, to be able to accomplish their mission.

I’ve just laid out our value statement – THE PROMISE. I assure you, that’s not just another snazzy acronym on the shelf. The promise is something I make to my organization, to the public we serve and to myself – the promise is what provides my basis for transparent honesty.

Adversarial hints of a cover-up will get you nowhere in our business. While you may get short-term gains of employment or status, I assure you we will see through the clouds of dishonesty. As trite as it may sound, honesty really is the best policy. When you have done something wrong, you’ve done something wrong. Let’s do our part to do away with flimsy or lame excuses for lackluster performance or outright deficiencies.

Unambiguous honest actions. Remember, transparency cannot be a lie, any more than death can be life.

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