It’s naïve to think that we can be 100 percent transparent. Even personally, we struggle at times to protect certain areas of our lives. Imagine a business. Then imagine a Financial Services business, with regulators, shareholders, and an acquisition underway.
So how should business leaders strike the balance?
We live in a social business era. Expectations are that we operate transparent business models. And I certainly support those expectations.
I’ve seen first hand how the financial services industry has changed. When ING DIRECT introduced direct online banking to Canadians, it was a radical idea. Trusting a bank without physical branches with something as important as your hard earned money was far-reaching.
Fast forward 16 years, direct banking is the new normal. But even more exciting is that Canadians are opening up about their finances like never before. Years ago, people would rather discuss sex and drugs with their kids and friends instead of talk about money and how to manage it. Today however, there are thousands of blogs being written and shared about people’s personal finances. How they manage debt, try to save, drive fees away from their lives and invest for their futures… How they have learned, the mistakes they made and how they were overcome. It really is an amazing and important development.
There’s something liberating about sharing your struggles. As soon as you do, you realize you are not alone. You become part of a community. Clearly this is not new. But it is amplified in the technology driven social era we live in. An era where leaders need to prove the obvious – that they are human beings.
For the financial industry, this is especially important. Jargon, complexity, ivory towers and mahogany desks are expected, right? Not so much. Not anymore. The pressure is on for disclosure and openness and for sharing the wealth with customers and community.
This is on my mind often: do our employees know who I am as a person? Customers, followers, subscribers, listeners – are they getting to know the real me? How I lead ING DIRECT? What I believe in? What makes me happy, unhappy, frustrated, elated? Do they have a good perspective of my personality by what I share?
I am socially inclined which has helped me be referred to as the “social CEO”. Sharing stories, talking “normal stuff” and connecting with people all come naturally. So using social media was a no brainer for me and our organization. Of course there are many examples of very successful leaders who are quiet, reserved, even introverted. Those who are more comfortable one on one as opposed to a larger group.
Which begs the question: is social media for everyone? Maybe not. But I believe that the success of future leaders and their businesses may depend on their willingness to reveal who they are, who they really are, with authenticity and sincerity. Being open, sharing more about ourselves, showing a relatable side are all extremely valuable and can be real competitive advantages.
Of course leaders have insights into confidential information that require a level of discretion and at times even legal and compliance issues curtail a leader’s ability to share. I recently found myself pondering this very dilemma when ING Group began the process of selling ING DIRECT Canada. Full disclosure was simply not allowable. But for me, it was important to share what I possibly could as soon as I was able.
I like what Simon Sinek recently shared at the Art of Management conference in Toronto: “It is better to disappoint people with the truth, than appease them with a lie.” With this you have a chance of building trust that will serve the entire team well.
Leaders want to be seen as confident, strong and smart. We think that this is what people want from us. However, at times we feel confused, sad, frustrated and even doubtful. Hey, leaders are human too!
So what happens then? Instead of trying to put your best face forward, I’d consider putting your real face forward. Redefine vulnerability as strength. Be thoughtful how you do it and you may appreciate how those around you grow to feel about you as a leader.