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Leadership Lessons from Transparent Wood

Anyone who has ever duck-hooked a 3-iron out of the fairway and into to the forest knows this: Trees aren’t 90 percent air; they are 100 percent wood. That’s why no golfer swinging a club made of iron likes to hear his playing partner say, “Oh, you got good wood on that one!”

And as if it weren’t hard enough to avoid the trees lining your favorite fairways, researchers at the University of Maryland now have figured out a way to make “transparent” wood. According to an article on entrepreneur.com, these scientists apparently can take out the color and chemicals from a piece of wood, leaving it darn-near see-through. “The result is a material that is both stronger and more insulating than glass,” the article says, “with better biodegradability than plastic.”

Fortunately, it appears transparent wood isn’t something they can seed and grow, which means, at least for now, duffers everywhere should still be able to see the trees they’re trying to avoid. And as long as that’s the case, I think this idea of transparent wood strengthens one of the key points in my leadership philosophy: That everything is better with transparency.

Here’s what transparent wood can remind us about transparency in leadership:

Transparency increases clarity

The researchers removed the things in the wood that blocked light. As a leader, we need to examine our style and approach, and then remove the things that are blocking insights into who we are, where we’re going, and what we’re asking of people.

Transparency produces strength

You have options as a leader. You can be transparent or not. If you’re a strong leader who is transparent, you’re more like the transparent wood – a stronger option than a fragile glass leader or a phony plastic leader.

Transparency improves culture

The transparent wood is more biodegradable than plastic and more insulating than glass, so it’s good for its environment. When you lead with transparency, you strengthen your environment.

Transparency builds trust

Transparent wood might look different, but it still can be trusted to perform to the expectations of a block of wood. Leading with transparency requires a core of values-based strengths – decisive actions, a commitment to strategies and goals, and a firm resolve in the face of challenges. Living those values fosters trust.

We live in a work environment that’s increasingly transparent. If leaders stay true to the values that matter and allow people to see into their worlds, they will create a culture of trust that’s strong and secure. If not, they might as well go play golf. But if you choose that path, be warned: The course is lined with trees you might not even see.

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