Authenticity and the Myth of Total Transparency

Most of us tend to think of transparency as an “either/or” thing. Someone is not transparent and that is a bad thing. We usually mean they are hiding something from us. Another person is transparent and that is a good thing. We feel like they are being open and transparent with us.

But if we really think about this issue of transparency at a deeper level, the plot thickens. How many of us are completely transparent with ourselves at all times? Are you sure you even know exactly what you are feeling and thinking at any given moment? Stop a moment and take that thought in. If we can’t even be sure of everything that is going on in our own heads and hearts, how can we assume someone else is being totally transparent? So, the first rule of the territory is that there is no such thing as total psychological transparency. That is what I call the myth of total transparency.

Transparency at work is always a matter of degree, intention, choice, relevance, and appropriateness. The Pixar animated feature Inside Out takes us inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley as she experiences the trauma of a move to a new school in a new state, and the movie provides a vivid illustration of why there is no such thing as total transparency. Inside Out begins at a relatively simple control panel located in Riley’s mind, which manages the vast territory of her 11-year-old brain with the emotion of joy dressed in a spiffy outfit at the helm. The control panel is simple enough to comprehend quickly with just a few knobs, gears, and options.

As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that the experience of moving to a new school has challenged Riley’s brain. Through the process of dealing with the challenge and learning, Riley’s brain has become more complex. Hence, the control panel looks quite daunting toward the end of the movie, with many more options on the control panel alongside new gears, knobs, and monitors. And there is a new gear called puberty! As we all know, puberty makes everything even more complicated.

My point here is that because there is so much going on in the mind and heart of any of us at any given time, there is no way we can be totally transparent. Transparency is always a matter of degree. Authentic leaders, however, are at the control panel of their own minds and hearts. That is easier said than done. The pace of leading in a large organization is fast and intense. Taking the time to ground yourself enough to stay in touch with your own control panel requires discipline. I require most of my clients to mandate time to think on their calendars. If they don’t maintain that discipline, it is easy to spin out of control and have no idea what is going on in the vast territory of your own mind and heart. While there is no such thing as total transparency, the issue of transparency is at the forefront of expectations for leaders in the 21st century.

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This article was originally published on the Wholebeing Institute blog.