How Leading with Transparency Motivates Employees

How Leading with Transparency Motivates Employees
By Morgan Mechelke, Brand Manager

The secret to satisfied employees is surprisingly simple, and cost-effective.

Being transparent costs leaders nothing; therefore, transparency is one of the most affordable ways to invigorate a workforce.

We are wired to thrive off of transparency. First, we must acknowledge Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory as it explains the effect of human nature on people’s behavior at work.

Maslow’s theory[1]highlights the importance of meeting physiological needs before anything else. Recent studies, however, have shown how people of developed countries weigh social needs equal to physiological. We no longer live in fear of being eaten by predatory animals or falling victim to harsh weather patterns, but rather we feel heavily motivated by our drive to belong, to be known, and to be informed.

The brain perceives the workplace as a social system. Therefore, the stress of uncertainty diminishes memory, undermines performance, and disengages people from the present. A perception of feeling excluded, socially, triggers the anterior cingulate cortex. This is the same region of the brain that registers pain. That’s why we as humans cannot last long under stress – it simply requires more neural energy.

A leader attuned to SCARF principles makes reducing the threat of uncertainty top priority.

David Rock’s SCARF model[2]identifies 5 domains of human social experience: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. Rock concluded the guiding principle of the brain is to reduce threat and maximize reward. Its method for doing so? Pursue certainty.

Uncertainty isn’t necessarily debilitating, however, as mild uncertainty can attract interest and attention. Increased level of adrenaline and dopamine spark curiosity and energize people to solve problems.

The reality is: life is uncertain. However, it’s the perceived abundance of uncertainty that undermines performance and productivity. Therefore, leaders must strive towards transparency to build confident teams. Reviewing business plans, common objectives, and organizational structures can help create this perception of certainty. Articulating a plan and clearly demonstrating a roadmap builds trust. Trust and transparency are the foundation upon which employees thrive.

Conversation is the linchpin of performance.

Honesty breeds authenticity and creativity. If you consider what a brainstorming session would be like without vulnerability to share ridiculous ideas, we might not have the innovation we experience today. The irony is that leaders who operate with less transparency hurt not only their employees, but also themselves due to waning performance.

We live in an age when leaders are expected to be transparent, even personally transparent on digital platforms. People want and expect their leaders to be more vulnerable, honest, and just plain human – regardless of rank. As culture in general has moved from face-to-face to digital communication and third-party applications, corporate culture must cling to in-person interaction with greater frequency. Neurologically, we are freed up to be more creative when we’re led with greater transparency.

Feedback is a simple concept often disregarded due to tight schedules and multitasking. However, placing a greater emphasis on providing (and asking for) regular feedback is food for growth and frankly, something for which a healthy organization requires.

In the end, as each of us has the potential to be a leader, we share the responsibility to provide and promote a positive work environment. Strive to build trust through transparency, because neurologically, it’s what we crave.

[1] Horne, K. (2019, February 27). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Why It Still Matters In 2019. Retrieved from

[2] Noisegate. (2019, February 6). The SCARF model. Retrieved from


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