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Transparency and Naked Leadership 

There is much discussion about government transparency, especially regarding tools such as blogs, Twitter, and various social networking applications.  In a literal sense, transparency means seeing right through something.  Definitions and shared understanding in a government context vary.  But it is generally understood to suggest doing things so that citizens know what’s happening.  Thus, accountability is increased, and corruption is decreased.  


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


Topless at a virtual conference – Maybe Some Things Should Not Be Seen


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


While practicing and setting some things up, 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, no one was around. 


The point here is that as we operate and lead transparently, 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 knockout 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 his transparent threads.  A courageous follower told him he had no clothes. 


You may find many 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 telling 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 comes the responsibility of honest self-examining and having high emotional intelligence.  It also requires seeking out and nurturing courageous followers who will tell you that 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 not to 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 listen and try to understand.  


Operating transparently helps provides much value.  Expanded perspectives from diverse employees or constituents can produce better end products.  Successful Naked Leadership will need to learn to navigate these waters.  


~ Dr. Linda Cureton

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