Leadership Story | Leaders Are Transparent

After binge-watching the powerful HBO miniseries Chernobyl:


my thoughts turned to our country and the ongoing issue with Boeing’s 737 MAX. What’s common to both events? A single word: Transparency. Or, the lack of it. The first episode of Chernobyl highlights — at the individual and at the organizational level — consequences of not sharing information, or the truth, especially at the beginning of an accident. Any viewer of the series will be struck by the breathtaking denial of the reactor core explosion, and how many lives, such as those of the firefighters in the first episode, will later horribly end in an isolated Moscow hospital due to massive radiation poisoning.

Let’s turn to the 737 MAX events. After two overseas fatal accidents, both during takeoff, many questions arose about similarities leading to the crashes. Following a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal, it quickly becomes apparent that not everyone at Boeing was sharing vital design details, such as the Angle of Attack sensors and related flight control systems. Alarmingly, it appears not even Boeing test pilots knew these critical design details:


While the magnitude of these two events are quite different, there are disturbing commonalities. First, critical design details were not known by those who operate the systems. Second, and perhaps even worse, the basis for design decisions appeared to be short-sighted considerations such as cost, which, in the end, were given higher priority than basic safety. With Boeing we are still in the consequences stage as the design and software issues are being addressed in real time. One can only wonder what it will take for Boeing to recover the loss to their integrity and brand after this event. What changes will be required so this does not happen again?

Once again we can turn to  Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton’s Knowing-Doing Gap:


We’ve all encountered a bureaucratic organization or call center from hell where we endlessly repeated requests and it appears nothing we say is listened to, captured, stored, or responded to. Organizations that ignore knowledge, or treat it as something to be acquired, stored, and often protected or hidden will never cross the Knowing-Doing Gap. As a result, individuals in such organizations will be unlikely to Do The Right Thing, even when they know what the right thing to do is. Often they won’t even know.

Just like Chernobyl and just like Boeing.

We learn from Pfeffer and Sutton that the rare organizations that cross the Knowing-Doing Gap treat knowledge differently, we could say with radical transparency. What is required to do that? Brave and secure leaders who willingly accept feedback and that pursue continuous improvement. If you have a chance to see the Chernobyl series, it’s a haunting experience. Let’s keep an eye on Boeing as well, watching how their leaders respond.

Great Leaders Are Transparent.