Tag Archive for: transparency


I have a confession.

I am a groupie. I am sure many of you remember the 70’s and the “Dead Heads”, that group of hippies that followed the Grateful Dead all over the country. No, I haven’t been following my favorite rock band but I really AM a dead head because I’ve been following two dead guys all over the country for years!

Over those miles traveled, I have learned about history, our country, and, yes, I have learned about leadership. How these two men were able to lead their men (along with a woman, Sacagawea) across the un-explored continent and bring them home safely  can give us insights today into how to grow leaders, how to create effective teams, and how to create an environment of truth, transparency and candor. In my eBook, which you can download for free at the link at the end of this post, I explore ten traits of a leader using one of the greatest leadership books ever written, Lewis and Clark’s own journals.

A leader:

is Transparent

Many books today that discuss transparency focus on the outward flow of information to the marketplace. Some books will also encourage leaders to be open and honest with their employees. Still fewer books will talk about encouraging those employees to be open and honest with management. I believe leaders must first be transparent with themselves. They must look at themselves without any of the guises of self-deception. I believe the transparency that had been established between Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis laid a solid foundation for the planning of the Expedition. It was this foundation that led to William Clark being enlisted as co-captain with Lewis.

is Honest and Truthful

During the time that the captains were recruiting the members of the expedition they could of painted a rosy picture of a trip of adventure and romance across the country. Instead they were honest about the risks, the hardships, and the dangers of the journey. Today, whether we are recruiting new employees, or launching a new project, or discussing issues, we must be honest and truthful with our teams, our customers, and all of our stakeholders.

is Accountable

Accountability is one of the most difficult traits of a leader. For accountability to work, however, it must be combined with consequences. It is one thing to tell Joe he is accountable for a deliverable. It is quite another thing to hold him accountable by having consequences when he doesn’t deliver. Throughout their journals, especially in the early days of the expedition, there are many examples of the captains holding the men (and themselves) accountable. While I don’t suggest we use running the gauntlet, court martial, or even loss of whiskey privileges (seriously, I would never go to the extreme of denying someone their grog!) today, I do think we can learn lessons about laying down expectations and holding our teams accountable with fair and consistent consequences.

is Patient

With accountability and consequences, comes the fourth trait. A leader is also patient. The youngest member of the Corp was Private George Shannon. Shannon had a propensity for getting lost, not a good thing on a trek through the wilderness. Once while he was lost, he was able to feed himself by shooting a stick out of his rifle and killing a rabbit (resourceful might have to be added to this list). However, the captains were patient with Shannon and trained him. After the expedition, Shannon became a lawyer in Lexington Kentucky. I think, more than any other trait, we are called upon to be patient when others might “get lost” along the way. We train, we teach, we mentor, we do not adjust our expectations, or the consequences of accountability.

Seeks Input

Decision Point is one of my favorite spots along the 8,000 mile Lewis and Clark Trail. It is there, at the confluence of two rivers, the captains halted the expedition to explore both channels to ensure they selected the right channel before proceeding on. They examined all the evidence and made their decision. How many of us have experienced managers that make decisions without gathering all the facts or seeking input from those around them? It can be devastating to morale and team energy, in the best case. Great leaders use the knowledge and expertise of those around them to make their decisions. They also take the time to explain their decisions. Why can be just as important as what.

is Committed

To be successful leaders must be committed to the mission. Our response to challenges will serve as positive and negative examples to those around us. If we explode in anger or frustration, or if we give up completely our teams will lose confidence in us and they too will give up. The journey of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery has countless examples of being committed to the mission. In fact, they used the phrase “we proceeded on” so many times in their journals I am unable to count them.

has Integrity and Character

Admits Mistakes

One story in the journals provides us with two lessons in leadership. Our captains were not perfect. While faced with the long trip back to St. Louis, the Corps needed canoes. Unable to barter for one, Lewis ordered some of the men to steal one. In my opinion and in reading between the lines of the journals, Lewis had to fall several notches in the eyes of his men. Not only did he order them to steal one, we have no record of Lewis ever admitting his lapse in judgement. It is interesting to note, he doesn’t even retell the story in his journal. Leaders must manage themselves with high integrity and solid character. A great leader will do this in their personal as well as professional lives (those photos on Facebook, may NOT be a good idea!). When we do stumble, or make a mistake, we have to own up to the mistake, take responsibility for the mistake and learn from the mistake.

is Flexible

Throughout the three and half year odyssey, the Corps only retreated one time. When faced with snow “deeper than the trees were tall” while crossing the mountains, despite being anxious to return home, the captains called a retreat. The Corps returned to the base of the pass and waited with the Nez Perce tribe for the snow to melt. They waited almost two months. This showed flexibility (and perhaps wisdom!). Strong leaders must know when to “proceed on” and when to retreat, regroup, re-evaluate and adjust the strategy.

Takes Risks

Leaders must not only be willing to take risks, but we have to create an environment in which our co-workers are willing to take risks. If our teams are afraid of harsh consequences or an explosive boss, we may be leaving significant discoveries on the table. The entire Lewis and Clark adventure was a lesson in risk taking. However, there are several examples, where because the captains knew and understood the mission, they made decisions to accept even more risk. One such time was on the return journey when they divided the Corps into four smaller parties to help accomplish the mission.

Upon their return, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery were celebrated all across our young nation. The knowledge of our country, the native peoples, the plants and animals was expanded dramatically almost over night. Not only were these sciences advanced, but, as I hope you have seen, so to was our knowledge of the traits of leadership.


If you would like to read the entire eBook, you can download by clicking on the here.  Everything I Learned About Leadership – Ton

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

Let me start off by saying, I hate the term “Vendor Relationship Management”. Like the old adage, if you have to spend time “managing and motivating” an employee, you probably have the wrong employee; I would extend that to vendors as well. I want fewer vendors and more partners. 

Webster’s defines a partnership as:

A relationship resembling a legal partnership and usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified joint rights and responsibilities. 

To me, that means several things. First of all “joint rights and responsibilities”, in other words both parties need to have skin in the game. If I am taking all the risk, there is no partnership. Second, it means fair contracts. If a contract has a clause prohibiting me from hiring their staff, it should extend to cover my staff as well. (I could talk forever about fair contracts, I have certainly seen some pretty one-side tomes) Third, it means, take some time to invest in the relationship. Get to know me, get to know my company. As an example, don’t try to sell me services that my company provides (yes that happens more often than you would believe). Some of my best business relationships didn’t turn into a “sale” for years, but have since become very fruitful for the companies involved. (thanks Jeff, Eric, Julie…) Finally, it means flexibility, to again offer a paraphrase “stuff happens”. When “stuff happens” be willing to talk through all options, not just rely on the T’s and C’s. During the economic crisis of 2008, 2009 I had the opportunity to work with several vendors to try to re-work the our deal to provide my company some relief. One firm, flatly refused to discuss options, even though I offered to extend the terms of the contract several years. Another firm, brought their senior executives to our offices, sat down with us, and worked through several scenarios that proved to be wins for both firms. Fast forward to 2012, I am now at a different company, guess which vendor I am doing business with at this organization?

That brings me to the second key: transparency. Defined as:

Characterized by visibility or accessibility of information. 

What does this mean in a business relationship? It means both parties being open and honest about all aspects of the relationship, pricing, budgets, profit margins, goals, objectives, everything. Be honest about your services. If it is not in your wheel house, you will gain much more credibility by admitting that than you will by trying to “fake it till you make it”. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Awhile back I had a vendor calling on me trying to get his foot in the door. Coincidentally, I had a need at the time for a resource with a very specific skill set. “Of course, we have someone. They are one of the tops in the field. They will be a little expensive, but worth it.” I thought I would give them a shot. Only later did I learn, the resource didn’t actually work for them, they sub-contracted them from another company, marked up the rate and put them on my project. To make matters worse, the resource actually came from another firm with whom I do business. One of these firms was invited to our partner summit, one has not been back in my office since.

The third key is trust. Trust is:

Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. 

Trust is probably the hardest of the three, very difficult to gain, very easy to lose. One way to earn my trust is to tell me when I am wrong. Believe it or not, the customer is not always right, especially when that customer is me! I rely very heavily on the expertise of my partners. If I am getting ready to do something you know darn well I should not, TELL ME! Along the same lines, tell me what I need to hear, not what you think I want to hear. We had a vendor a few years ago responsible for large software upgrade. We asked time and time again, if our hardware was OK. We were assured it was. Low and behold a year later, our hardware was end of life and we had to upgrade again. I truly believe the vendor was trying to save us money on the original project, but trust me, I would rather do one upgrade than two. Another quick way to earn my trust is to advise me down a path that saves me time, effort, or money even when it impacts your bottom line; even when it leads to another vendor or solution. Again, it is an investment in the long term.

By now you are asking WIIFM – What’s in it for me?  What does all this get you (other than a ticked off sales manager when you don’t hit your quota)? It gets you a seat at the table as a trusted adviser. It gets you full transparency into roadmaps and budgets. And, it gets you a relationship with someone who wants fewer vendors and more partners.