Kristin Shane

I spent most of my career running businesses for Target.  A job I loved.  But my dreams were bigger.  And now I'm living them...

Honesty doesn't really build trust.

Honesty doesn't really build trust.


I was sitting in the Target board room getting ready to present our current state of affairs in Canada to our executive team. I’m pretty sure I was stress sweating through my dress because things were not good. We built a presentation that was truthful and honest about where we were. The data in our deck showed that things were getting better, trending in the right direction. The conversation would have been a lot easier if we just left it there, but although honest, that was not the whole story. Not even close. It would not have been transparent. So we did it. We waded into the transparency that helped our exec team truly understand exactly where we were and what we needed from them. It was uncomfortable, but it was the right thing to do.

Honesty doesn’t really build trust. Transparency does. And they’re different. You can be honest without being transparent.   There are countless examples of this and each of them create a gap in trust. Like …

  • The honest leader who isn’t willing to let people in to who they really are. They won’t let their guard down, show their personal side, be vulnerable, share their fears … or just be HUMAN.

  • The honest person who doesn’t paint the whole picture. They keep you on a need to know basis, so you’re always wondering if you know the whole story.

  •  The honest person who doesn’t bring people along. They can do it all themselves. They don’t need you or anyone to help. And then SURPRISE, here are all of the changes, or outcomes that we have to live with.

Committing to transparency is critical to make people feel valued and builds a team people want to be on. But there are two things that have to be present as you navigate through delicate topics transparently:

  1. You can’t be an asshole.  Generally, transparency is required when topics are delicate, uncomfortable or new to the other party. Coming off flip or glib doesn’t work.

  2. You must have empathy. As with most things, understanding how the other person will receive your commentary is critical and will make your conversation so much more productive. This means being vulnerable and working to understand people’s feelings. Transparency without this can spiral quickly.


When you’re transparent, three pretty amazing things happen:

  1. Teams rise to the challenge. We brought that message we delivered to the exec team back to our team in Canada in a town hall forum. Despite the difficult position we were in, our team appreciated understanding exactly where we were and were actually energized by how we set out to attack the huge challenges ahead of us. We were all in it together and together we were ready for anything.

  2. Drives ethical behavior. When transparency is the standard culturally, it makings doing the right thing easy. Simple things like writing your emails as though they’ll be seen by everyone. And puts bigger things like back channel decision making and gossip out of bounds. It simply creates more of an inclusive and collaborative culture.

  3. Creates a culture of feedback. Feedback makes us better and elevates our business. But feedback can’t happen without trust. And trust can’t happen without transparency. Transparency creates a culture of excellence because people feel that they play a role in the development of others on their team, and are willing to have the transparent conversation around performance and potential.

As you think about your leadership style are you transparent, or just honest?

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