CEO Survival Guide: Leading with Authenticity, Transparency and Trust
Being a leader is challenging, even in the best of times — some may say it takes a survivor mentality. So, in the current climate, when everything is heightened, I find myself returning again and again to one of my favorite quotes from William Arthur Ward: “Adversity causes some men to break, and others to break records.”
I refuse to be broken by adversity. The future has never seemed more uncertain, but I believe we already have the tools to bring certainty back to the decisions we make as CEOs and leaders. By staying true to our core values, cultivating habits of information sharing, and establishing principles of data trust, we can guide our companies through this crisis and into the future.
Everything starts with authenticity
Growing up in an underprivileged environment, I learned that your current situation doesn’t define who you are. What truly matters is what you believe, and how you live those values every day. In a way, the daily hardship of my youth prepared me for the crises I would face as an adult. The 2008 financial collapse, 9/11, the current global pandemic — these inflection points have forced us all to adjust and innovate in an uncomfortable, uncertain environment. But if we don’t lose sight of who we are, they can present an opportunity to perform at an even higher level than before.
Leadership in these difficult times requires an almost radical authenticity. As leaders, we need to foster a company culture that encourages every employee to be just as honest, and to become leaders. Together, we can overcome these challenges by acknowledging and facing them head-on.
Transparency builds trust
Our greatest weapon against uncertainty is information. Every day when I turn on the news, I learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on our economy and people. The news isn’t always cheerful, but it always helps me make better decisions about my own behavior. I see the same thing play out in the corporate sphere: We need data to tell us which regions of the world feel the heaviest impact, what that means for purchasing trends, how it might affect our supply chain, and most importantly, how we can recalibrate our strategies to protect our businesses, our customers, and our employees.
But it isn’t enough to bring that data into the organization. Once you have the information, it needs to be shared openly throughout the company, which can present its own set of challenges. Because finance, administration, HR, and other departments need different information to do their work, data tends to accumulate in isolated silos. Each department has its own lingo, processes, and challenges. Businesses that commit to transparency must fight this culture of separation by providing unfettered, open access to information and decision-making processes.
At a data-centric organization like Talend, information transparency is the air we breathe. But this should be a core value for any organization, regardless of industry or business model. Transparency builds trust in the workplace by helping employees feel empowered and invested. A shared source of truth helps to break down silos that could otherwise undermine trust, collaboration, and productivity.
Trust is a daily practice
One of the most pointed lessons of 2020 is the importance of constant communication and personal support. As most of us around the world experience some form of extended lockdown or shelter-in-place, we need to pay extra attention to the things that make us feel reassured, informed, connected, and empowered.
As leaders, we can’t sit by on the sidelines and expect our employees to stay fulfilled, productive, and engaged. It’s going to take a personal touch, creating opportunities for group activities and healing, and offering a venue where employees can feel that they are part of the solution.
For example, I’ve given my personal cell phone number out to every employee worldwide and let them know I’m available to talk about anything, not just work. Like many other organizations, our work-from-home initiative helps blur social barriers, allowing people to work and collaborate more closely despite the physical reality of social distancing. We recently launched mental health seminars for employees and are encouraging social breaks and lunch-and-learns during the workday, where employees can share their hobbies and skills with remote colleagues. We have also recalibrated productivity expectations to account for the realities of adjusting to the new pace of work during a pandemic.
Finally, we’ve embraced the benefits of giving employees space to pursue the passion projects that give them a sense of purpose in the larger world. One such project resulted in software that prepares data from public health databases to make it more accessible and useful for the researchers who are trying to find new and better ways to combat the pandemic.
Businesses only grow through trust
A career in technology has given me tremendous respect for the importance of trustworthy data. Without it, we are just guessing in the dark. As leaders, we must trust our teams, and support them by providing the intelligent, trusted data they need to make good decisions — especially when the stakes are so high.
At Talend, this philosophy manifests as a core set of principles that we call “The Five Ts of Trust:” to be meaningful, all data must be transparent, thorough, timely, traceable, and tested. These principles have been invaluable for Talend and could come to represent a guide across all industries. I believe that establishing an industry standard for the health or trustworthiness of data will give everyone more clarity and confidence in the choices they make, from how to keep up employee morale to how to adapt to a volatile economic landscape.
Trust comes from clarity
Unprecedented change offers leaders an unprecedented opportunity to examine and recalibrate our processes and strategies. As we forge ahead in an uncertain economic climate, we need trust and transparency more than ever before. Organizations need to trust and empower employees and provide them with unencumbered access to transparent and reliable data for dependable decision making. Leaders can close the trust and transparency gap by applying “the five Ts of trust” and ultimately, by calling for the establishment of an industry standard for data health.
Trustworthy data is the only way to move forward with clarity and make the confident decisions that produce a sense of pride, accomplishment, and belonging for leaders and their employees alike.