Confidentiality and transparency are not mutually exclusive, but rather two sides of the same coin.   Thomas de Maiziere

Transparency is no longer the flavor of the month or latest buzzword. It’s now a core value and guiding principle that drives organizational vision and strategy. This transparency, the free and honest flow of information, is key to building trust with internal and external stakeholders. It implies communication, openness and accountability.

Transparency requires an organization to first be honest with itself before it can be honest with the public. Senior leaders must demonstrate transparency that cascades throughout the organization to managers and employees as a prerequisite for inspiring public transparency.

Leaders must also recognize the other side of the coin – confidentiality.  Trust not only requires transparency but confidentiality as well. While modeling transparency, it is equally important to maintain appropriate confidentiality and honor individual privacy. How leaders navigate these two elements, both internally and externally, can be challenging but vital to the success of an organization.


Leaders must look critically at their style and behavior and become comfortable with vulnerability to model transparency with their managers, employees and others within the organization. Leaders should:

  • Be honest and truthful. Admit when a message is confidential or must be delayed and agree to follow up as soon as you can and do it.
  • Be open and available to feedback and listening to criticism. Be vulnerable.
  • Manage and resolve conflict, disagreements and difficult situations. Entertain and encourage diverse opinions and perspectives.
  • Communicate information frequently, accurately and equitably. Clearly explain decisions and strategies in a timely manner. Help people see how their work aligns with collective goals and the larger vision.
  • Be participative and involve people in decisions as much as possible. Be inclusive.
  • Reach consensus on key messages to share from each meeting to increase clarity and consistency.


Nothing erodes the creation of a transparent culture more than a lack of restraint and respect. The unauthorized or haphazard disclosure of information destroys trust and poses a serious threat to individual and external business relationships. Leaders must make sure that personal data, business processes and trade secrets are protected.  An organization’s proprietary information, and that of its outside partners, should be guarded as much as personal information about individual staff and employees. Leaders should:

  • Share confidential information only on a need to know basis.
  • Exercise judgment and restraint. Don’t share ALL information ALL the time.
  • When in doubt, check with the individual involved before disclosing information.
  • Respect the rights of others to privacy. Honor agreements and boundaries.
  • Protect anonymity when disclosure would cause harm or personal embarrassment.
  • Avoid repeat unfounded rumors, hunches and third-party hearsay. Discourage gossip.
  • Finally, be particularly careful using social media. Its pervasive use in today’s world can create a false sense of privacy.

Delicate balance

Organizational leadership that develops a culture of trust by demonstrating transparency while respecting confidentiality will empower employees and help them perform at higher levels. When this occurs, business and public trust and transparency will naturally follow.