Most of us are afraid of admitting what we don’t know. Society does a good job of reinforcing the idea that you should have all the answers and “fake it until you make it.” The surprising reality is transparency is very liberating. What’s more, getting honest about the facts can have a galvanizing effect on you and your team.
You’re probably familiar with the term, “afterglow,” to describe the light that remains after the sun sets. Transparency has this same effect and I’ve experienced it firsthand. Transparency’s afterglow is the space and time charged with opportunity after an honest breakthrough.
I recently wrote about Herbert Hainer’s profit warnings as the CEO for Adidas during a financially shaky time. Hainer’s reflections on regaining a firm footing with his people reminded me of my own similar experiences and how transparency created a climate for recovery.
Honesty sets the wheels in motion
One of the things I remember most about a particularly difficult profit warning in my past was something I said to our investors: “Don’t trust us, watch us.” In other words, don’t take our word for it, watch what we do in the upcoming months to correct our course. I realize now that honesty—our moment of truth—also empowered us to pursue a fresh path.
Adidas’ traction under Herbert Hainer’s transparent leadership is reminiscent of this interaction with our investors. When Hainer was asked about having to announce slashed profit projections, he recalled having an honest conversation with himself. He thought, “OK, good, it is what it is. Now we have to show the world that we can do better.”
Adidas went on to successfully rekindle sales by assigning more responsibility to brand managers and working more closely with retailers. As a result, Adidas went from underperforming in every category to surpassing projections in all its key markets.
Hainer’s circumstances also reminded me of my friend and colleague, Cheryl Bachelder, and her approach to turning the company around as CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. Bachelder and her team had an honest conversation about their lack of success, which immediately pivoted the discussion to the kind of leaders they wanted to be.
The team confided in each other and as the conversation gathered steam, a theme surfaced: They wanted to be leaders who served others over self. This epiphany or afterglow played out in many ways. Among them was one of the most critical changes. Much like Adidas shifted its focus to retailers, the Popeyes leaders moved their emphasis to the franchisees. They matured from the practice of infrequent, one-way communication to personalized interaction with each of the franchisees.
Soon after, restaurant sales were up 25 percent and profits were up 40 percent. The franchisees were so pleased, they began reinvesting in the brand by remodeling and building new units around the world.
Both Hainer and Bachelder had unique challenges to overcome on large and very public scales, yet both were able to capitalize on the afterglow of transparency. Each leader’s moment of truth cleared a path for recovery. Whether your professional challenges are large or small, consider the benefits of embracing an honest discussion with those around you. A fresh look at the facts can accelerate much-needed breakthroughs.