Episode 20: Transparency

Being open in an age of distrust.

If you have been listening to the Elite Entrepreneur show, you would know that host Niel Malan is very open and honest about his professional and personal life.

But while Niel has been operating like this for years, that is not how it is in the rest of the world…

In this episode, he looks at why transparency is so refreshing and necessary, especially in the age of distrust that we are living in.

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Hey everybody, welcome back to the Elite Entrepreneur show, where we invest in our own mindsets to become elite entrepreneurs so that we can build and grow our empires. Thank you so much for tuning in. Today I’m super excited to talk to you about a topic that’s not often spoken about, and that is the topic of transparency.

I’m going to tell you where this came from. There’s actually two conversations I recently had that kind of linked the topic of transparency together for me. The first was one of my clients had been following the show and her son is dealing with ADD as well and she asked me a whole bunch of questions about it.
A preface to her email said “thank you so much for your honesty”, and she asked me if it must be hard to share that sort of personal detail about myself. It was a really interesting question because I thought about it. I thought to myself is it hard, and has it always been hard. Is it new for me. So I’m gonna give you the answer to that question a little bit further into the show.

She commented just being so transparent, just being so honest. I know that dozens of people say to me the same things, like “Oh my God, I thought it was just me”.
So thanks so much for telling us about your own struggles with learning as a kid and with ADD and some of the issues that you’ve had to overcome.

A second conversation that I had is actually one of our members of our leadership team that recently joined us, Eugene. He made a comment one day to say he has never worked in a company where there’s such a high level of transparency, because we share everything. We share our profit and loss, we share pretty much our entire income statement. The only thing we don’t share is actual salary brackets for people but even that I don’t even mind sharing, to be honest. We just don’t want to cause issues. But for the rest, I don’t care if people know how much money our business makes and how much money I make or not. I’m not even the highest paid person in our company. I’m not earning the highest salary in our company. But that’s beside the point.
Eugene was commenting that we share everything. We talk openly about everything, and it’s a wonderful and so refreshing. And I thought about it and I realised that that’s obviously not the status quo out there, I’m so used to doing this.

So I decided to shoot an episode about this and I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to why transparency is so refreshing for people and why it’s so necessary.

Let me dive into a little bit of philosophy. So I believe we live in the age of distress, all right. I believe we live in the age of distrust. Seth Godin, a marketing guru, he wrote a book called Marketers Are Liars. You know and if you think about it, when a bank comes out and says “today, tomorrow, forever”, you don’t believe them because you know it’s not true.
If someone comes out and says you know they’re gonna walk a long term path with you, we don’t believe it because we know it’s just marketing speak.
We are used to marketers telling us one thing and delivering something else, right.

We are disillusioned by so many things. I mean this is gonna go back in history and I’m about to reveal my age so just bear with me. Can you remember back in the 90s when Bill Clinton, when the Hillary, when the Monica Lewinsky debacle broke, how disillusioned the American public was with President Bill Clinton? He had a very high level of trust. They was so disillusioned that he lied to them and he kind of went into denial about the whole thing. To his credit, he came back. He said, “I did lie, I was sorry, I’m sorry.”
And for the rest of his life after that he had to try and make amends.

Do you remember Bill Cosby? When it came out what he was doing to kids all along? Bill Cosby was our friendly guy. I mean we invited Bill Cosby into our homes. We watched the Bill Cosby Show and he was always a fun guy and he was always a funny guy and he was always preaching about family values and about parenting and all that kind of stuff.
And look at what he goes and does.

Remember when Robin Williams killed himself and it came out that he was struggling with depression? Many of us felt, I mean we fought a lot of empathy for Robin Williams, but how could such a funny guy… we thought he was a comedian, we thought he was happy.
I mean he put up all sorts of motivational messages out there, meantime secretly, he’s battling depression.

You know those of my friends who live in South Africa, I mean it’s a joke, it’s a dog show. The politicians lie, everybody basically tells lies. So people are inherently distrustful, people just don’t trust the polish, people just don’t trust the perfection. They don’t trust the promises anymore because so many “gurus” seem to be people that lie… and markets are seen to be people that lie.

So I believe deep down inside, all of us have not got a built-in bullshit detector. There’s like a part of us that… we look at messages, we look at what people say but there’s a part of us like what’s the other side of it, all right.
Because we kind of intuitively know, by now, that nothing is always as good as what it seems, right.

So we live in an age of distrust, and I think it’s because there’s a mindset that does its rounds of creating the perfect image, creating the perfect solution. I think that mindset comes from two areas, right. The mindset comes from people who believe that they’ll sell more of themselves, whether it’s a politician lobbying or someone trying to raise funding, whatever the case may be, if they put out an image of perfection.

And there’s a degree of truth to it, I think it is good marketing. Transparency it’s better marketing but I’ll qualify that in the second.

But you know what the real problem is? The real problem is us. We want the perfect leader. We want the saint that has no sinning. We want to follow the person that has absolutely no flaws. You know I think as human beings, we look for leaders that have got it all together, that have got the whole thing figured out.

I’m guilty of this myself. I remember when I was just got into personal development, I was studying Tony Robbins at the time. Tony was the guy. Tony was my God… figuratively, okay… he was the guy that I followed. Everything he said was true, right. I followed these diets, right, to the tea. I followed his exercise program, I spoke the way he spoke. He was the man.

I remember the area in my life that I was battling with the most at the time. In fact, for the better part of my adult life, up until a couple of years ago, my biggest challenge in my life was relationships, my primary relationship. I just couldn’t get it together. I was married. I wasn’t unhappily married. We just weren’t great, we were good friends, we weren’t great lovers. So we divorced very amicably in 2007.
Since then in a series of relationships I just couldn’t get it together. I remember Tony Robbins was the guy. He was married to a lady called Becky. And he always wrote about how gratefulness he is for Becky and how wonderful the relationship is and that kind of stuff. I think it’s one of the reasons why I followed Tony. I mean everything else I also followed him for but that was one of the big things.

And next moment I hear that he’s getting divorced. I was like what? What a fraud. This guy, he goes out there and he creates the impression that everything is great and here he goes and gets divorced. I thought that they’ve got such a loving relationship. I was disillusioned about them.

At the time I blamed him, I thought he is a problem. But later on I realized that Tony wasn’t the problem, I was the problem. I thought that I’m gonna find one guru that knows everything about everything and that one guru is gonna provide me with all the answers. Tony was gonna be the guy that’s gonna help me to create wealth. He was gonna be the guy that’s gonna help me to create health. He was also going to be the guy that’s gonna help me to make a massive change in impact into the world. He was also going to be the guy that was gonna help me to build a very successful business. He was also going to be the guy that’s gonna help me to get all my relationships together… that was my projection onto Tony Robbins.

Now, where does the fault lie? I suppose you could argue that maybe at the time he wasn’t revealing to the world that he was going through relationship challenges or that he is also human. Well, I can’t really say if that’s true or not. But I can tell you the problem in this case was me. You know the problem here was me thinking that the one person has it all together.

You know I think as a society we expect everybody that somehow makes it into the media or someone makes it into office or somehow makes it into position of power, to have everything together. And guys it’s not possible, because everybody is a human, right. Until the day that robots become the presidents and the leaders, we should not expect perfection from people. The fault is with us, right. I think it’s really important to realize that but there is two sides to this equation. I think there’s a person purveying the message and this person consuming the message, both have a responsibility. So I’m going to talk today about the person conveying the message.

I’m a big believer in being authentic and being truthful. I’m gonna tell you guys why. I’m gonna tell you some of my ideas and philosophies behind this.

Firstly, I resisted it for a very long time to let it out there, the areas where I’m battling and the areas where I’m not doing great and so forth.
I had this associate, Bill Gibson, that was… he told everything about himself to everyone. I remember I was always so embarrassed. I was like, Bill but why are you doing this? But I now understand.

So the first reason why I think it’s really important to be truly authentic is number one, is it’s more credible. I think when people can see a couple of cracks, they still see the painting, they still see the message. But there’s a part of them that feels calm that, okay cool, this person does have flaws, they are not perfect, they are not wonderfully polished, don’t expect certain things from them, expect this from them, right. And I think it makes people feel like they can trust that individual.

If I had to give an example, you know, Oprah Winfrey was the first female entertainment billionaire. And there’s a really big reason why. She did a lot of things right. But I can tell you one of the most important things Opera did right in the beginning, she told the truth.
Now think about it. She’s a billionaire. She’s got it all together. She’s got a TV show, she got the whole thing down. But she battles with weight, she writes a weight-loss book because she nails it and then she goes to a cycle of picking up weight again. You know it’s same as my relationship with weight. You know it has been my whole life, you know it fluctuated.

It’s so credible because millions of women, hundreds of million of women, and men around the world, can relate to that. It’s real for them. You understand what I mean? That was a marketing tool. It was a sales tool. I don’t think it was intentional but I think it worked for her definitely. So it’s more credible because you bypass people’s bullshit detector. You don’t bypass it, you just tell the truth about what’s not going great, right. It’s less pressure.

You know I remember when I was studying Tony Robbins. I wanted to be the Tony Robbins of South Africa. I was mimicking this guy, everything he did and said but I couldn’t get my weight stable. You know I kept on fluctuating, and I couldn’t get my relationship stable either. So I had a whole bunch of other things going on. You know financial is doing well, it’s pretty good running business, etc. But those two areas , my weight and relationships I just couldn’t nail it. And I ended up, I stopped presenting these seminars because I felt like a fraud.

What I didn’t realise is that I didn’t have to pretend like those areas are perfect. I was following Tony and he looked perfect at the time and I thought I had to do the same thing. Knowing what I now know, I should have just said listen, those areas of my life I’m still learning about that, I’ve don’t have a handle yet.

Another big reason why I believe in authenticity is you know there’s only one of you. You know the only thing that you’ve got and the only thing that I have, that is truly unique about us, is us.
My unique makeup of quirks and idiosyncrasies and strengths and weaknesses and the whole lot, is the only true thing that I’ve got that’s unique about me, all right.
If I spend my life trying to be someone else or trying to be like someone else or trying to create an image like someone else, then I’m giving away what’s authentic about me for the sake of trying to be like someone else that already exists, what’s the point in that?

So I think that it’s important for ourselves that we value our own authenticity and instead of judging ourselves, saying good, bad, right, wrong, see balance. You know there’s yin-yang in life, you know there’s everybody has strengths, everybody has weaknesses; everybody, right, this may come as a surprise to you. So the end effect is neutral, you know, everybody that walks around, are equals. Even the person that’s super-wealthy may not have an area in life handled that you’ve got handled, right. I mean maybe you’ve got relationships handled and that super-wealthy person doesn’t or you know the person who is awesome as a parent, just can’t get it together health-wise. You’ve got it together health-wise but you battle with your relationship and the kids. You don’t know what goes behind closed doors. I think the thing we need to do is we need to stop judging ourselves and we need to stop judging other people and we need to start putting some people on a pedestal and other people in a pit. Because all people are equal at the end of the day and it’s just easier being yourself, it’s easier not having that tremendous amount of pressure.

By doing that, you’ll allow the people to be themselves. I mean sometimes when I talk about some of the stuff going on in my life, I see people relaxing, saying what a relief. You know it’s okay for me to also be real, you know. I think it helps people a lot.

You can help solve real problems if it’s spoken about. I’m going to use two examples. The first is attention deficit disorder which is something I know about because I’ve been struggling with it my whole life. A lot of people have been emailing me and texting me, and they’ve been asking about it for themselves, for their kids and all that kind of stuff. And it’s a very complex topic, it’s extremely complex because there’s a lot to it. You know it’s not only medication, it’s one part of it, but there’s diet, there’s accurate diagnosis, there’s social support, there’s for kids.
Some learning environments are better than others, sometimes I kept the battles with anger and behavioural problems. Actually there’s a certain kind of ADD called Ring of Fire ADD. So it’s a very complex topic. I happen to know something about it but because I speak out instead of just trying to pretend like I’m perfect, it makes it okay for other people and we can actually discuss some real issues. We can delve in and we can start solving problems together and we can start fleshing out things together.

I believe someone like Robin Williams or anybody for that matter – I’m gonna pick on Robin Williams – it’s really sad what happened there, and more and more celebrities are by the way speaking out about the fact that they’re battling a depression because they saw what happens when you don’t.

And what it does, whatever thing you’re speaking out about, whether it’s in your personal life or whether it’s in business, you can actually solve problems instead of trying to put up a veneer that it doesn’t exist.
I think that’s really important as a leader and a company, your team will feel safe, they’ll feel safe around you when you’re discussing real issues, if you’re talking the truth about what’s going on. It makes people feel like they can trust you. It makes people feel like you’re gonna not pretend that there are not problems. So you’re not gonna hide things from them and so forth. They really appreciate that at a level that can’t believe it.

But now the question is if it’s so powerful and so important, why do we resist it? Well, in business, one thing that I’ve often had a question around is people would say to me , “Niel, if my staff know much money we make, aren’t they gonna be angry, aren’t they gonna ask for a raise or that kind of thing?”
And I’ve got a very simple answer to that. First of all, you’re making less money than what your staff think you’re making, right. Trust me, there are very few businesses that’s printing money, all right. Secondly, I wouldn’t say that they don’t care, they do care but they don’t see it like that. I think everybody that works in your company, if you run a business, know that you’re the one that has taken the risk. You started the company, you’ve got the initiative, and that kind of thing. In my experience, it doesn’t work like that you know.

So we’re very upfront. I mean the entire company can see how profitable, profit or loss you know. They can see if we’re going through a tough time and they can see if we’re going through a great time and we celebrate it together. Yeah, it does influence their bonuses and all that kind of stuff. So the better the company does, the better they do. So it’s also fair that they understand how the company does.

But yeah, I don’t think that there’s any drawback to it. I think in fact the entire company feels what a relief. Here’s a company that’s finally sharing with us what’s really going on. You know profitability is the most important number in your business. Why not include your team to help you to improve it you know? You shouldn’t hide it, you shouldn’t have to hide it, you shouldn’t have to hide any of the things that are broken in your business or in personal life. I don’t believe you should.

The second reason why we resist it is because we fear judgment. We fear, oh my goodness, will people think poorly of me, if they find out that I battle with this or that I’m going through this issue, that kind of thing. To be truthful, some people may judge you but whose problem is that? You know it’s theirs, it’s not yours. What is your job in life? To be you, right. The best version of you that you can possibly be. You can only improve yourself, you can’t improve other people’s perceptions of you.
But most people won’t judge you, most people will actually feel that you are trustworthy and it will make it okay you know for them to also be themselves. And like I say it takes off the pressure of trying to be this perfect person, just that perfect person doesn’t exist. We just stop aspiring to that, you know.

So I’m going to talk to you guys a little bit about business, how I believe this relates to business.

I think, firstly, share the numbers with your team. If you’re making a loss, make it known, if your company’s battling, if you’re running out of cash, make it known. Will people probably be getting a little bit panicky? They probably will, but they probably know that there’s problems in any case if that’s happening. If you’re making money, also share it, share it with people. Say, listen you know at some point I want to start sharing it with the team members. So I think get rid of the need of being secretive with your figures, you know, I don’t think it’s necessary, honestly.

Share challenges with your team. I want to encourage you guys that either have businesses already or that’s planning to start businesses. One of the hardest things in business and leadership is carrying the problems alone. You know, CEOs and entrepreneurs often feel that they have to carry the burden themselves. I felt like that for many years, you know, again to be completely honest with you guys. It took me a very long time to get this right in business. They feel like they’ve got to carry the pressure themselves and as a result of that the burden is so heavy. Because entrepreneurs are trying to protect everybody else but the problem is that people know what’s going on already, right.

So now what happens, when you start sharing with your team the challenges that you face as a company, you create a thing called lateral pressure. Lateral pressure means that you involve your team members in solving some of these problems and all the pressure that used to sit on you, now is spread out with your team members, so create lateral pressure. The pressure and noise, for you, comes down and for your team members, they take ownership of certain parts of solving a problem.

First of all, they love it because they feel trusted, they feel involved, they feel like they can trust you, it’s camaraderie, and the pressure noise drops for you. It’s really powerful, it makes your team better and it reduces pressure noise for you.

What you’re doing is building a culture where your team together solves problems. You’re building a team culture, you’re building a culture where you are no longer the smartest person in the room. I can tell you something, a lot of it leaders get this wrong, you know a lot of leaders think that they have to be the smartest person in the room, it’s expected of them. They have to be the person comes up with all the answers. That’s not good leadership. Because you’re building a business around you. As soon as you do that you’re creating a limitation because you are limited on your own capabilities and you always will be, right.

It doesn’t matter how much I read, doesn’t matter how much I study. There are certain subject I’ll never master, and there are subject I’ll never know anything about. So I as long as I’m the brightest person in the room or I’m trying to remain the brightest person in the room, our business is limited to what I know and what I can do, right. My job is to become the dumbest person in the room because if I can take the business to a certain level but I’ve got a leadership team of seven or eight or ten people around me and they’re brighter than me in their disciplines, imagine where this company can go to. Do you understand?

I’m the person always solving problems, and I’m the person always coming up with solutions, I can’t empower my team, it’s not possible. So I strongly encourage you guys to start thinking differently about how to build a team and what it does. If you’re the person is trying to solve all the problems as a person involving your team in solving challenges, it makes a much better team, trust me.

Guys, it makes life a lot less lonely, it makes life a lot less lonely. Because I think deep down inside many of us walk around thinking, “oh my goodness I’ve got this shame that I’m living with or I’ve got this guilt that I’m living or the struggle I’m living this but I can’t share it with anyone; I can’t tell people because what will people think.”
It’s very lonely. It’s lonely walking around with that. When you start talking to people about it, it’s no longer lonely. You know people are involved in your journey, they’re involved in your path, and you become involved in their journey and their path.

So I hope this just inspires you to think differently about how you show up in this world and who you show up as.
I hope it gives you, I hope it buys you speed. Because you don’t have to wait, you know you don’t have to wait to start your own podcast until you’re perfect, you can start it now. You don’t have to wait to start your business until you’ve got everything figured out, you can start it now. You don’t have to wait until the perfect you magically shows up one day before you take the step forward and do that thing that you’re passionate about and that thing that you’ve been dreaming about and that thing that you have been thinking about starting for so long.
You don’t have to wait until the perfect you shows up.

The perfect you is here, right now, it’s perfect for now. It comes warts and all in the same way as everybody else shows up warts and all, right. So let’s retire this idea of trying to find the perfect guru, you know, let’s retire this idea of trying to be the perfect person.
Stop trying to find that person that has got all answers. It just doesn’t exist, you’re going to set yourself up for failure. If a marketing guru shows up, learn marketing from him or her, and if you discover that there’s a part of their personal life that’s a mess, have empathy rather than judgment.

I think we need to start giving to other people what we most wish to receive. I think we need to stop striving for finding the perfect guru and being the perfect guru.

Now I don’t know what you think. Go to www.eliteinc.com/20. Episode number 20, get the video. I just wrote, I just shot The Power of Day One a couple of weeks ago. Isn’t that incredible, we’re already on show number 20, it’s really cool. So what is your take on the topic of transparency? I wanna know what you think. Like what is your view on it? What are the challenges that you have of the concept, in what way do you support the concept? What are your feelings about revealing your own weaknesses and challenges and sharing important information about your business. You know I think it’s important that we have the discussion together, you know, that we see how we all feel about this and that we support one another in this process. It’s not the easiest thing to do.

So join the dialogue. I wanna hear from you. So please comment on the blog. We want to know what you think. Just go to www.eliteinc.com/20 and guys please remember to subscribe on our YouTube channel, subscribe to our podcast. It helps us to get good rankings and give us a rating if you like the show, we would really appreciate that. Yeah, but also subscribe and you make sure that you don’t miss an episode. Sometimes you don’t get the email notifications so please remember to subscribe.

Those of you guys looking for the perfect digital business, please remember to book a call with my team, it’s complimentary, 15 minutes. You can just go to www.eliteinc.com/20, scroll down, book a call, it’s complimentary and we’ll see if we can help you.

And finally my friends, again, I always tell you thank you. Today, again, I’m telling you thank you. Time is your most precious commodity. I appreciate that you gave me some of your time today and that you’re going to go and comment on the blog. I don’t take it for granted. I hope you are getting value from the show and I look forward to seeing you on episode 21. Thanks for tuning in.