Transparency is a term often used to describe a solution to many organizational problems and a fundamental quality that employees seek from their leaders, yet its definition and application to leadership theory remain unclear. This study adopted a grounded theory approach to examining transparent leadership, using semi-structured interviews to explore transparent leader behaviors across multiple contexts. The sample included 25 mid-level leaders working for six non-profit healthcare organizations in the western US. Based on analysis of interview responses, the results revealed a dynamic, reciprocal transparent leader-follower relationship distinct from existing leadership theories. As the first known empirical study of transparent leadership, this research contributes a new multidimensional Transparent Leadership Model (TLM) and definition for this emerging theory: A leader’s intentional and reciprocal sharing of timely and relevant information with followers, and genuine relationship-building that cultivates follower trust and results in follower perceptions of strengthened personal value and meaningful work. The TLM comprises distinct leader characteristics (interpersonal skills, personality traits) that enable leader behaviors (information exchange, relationship building, relational transparency) to positively influence the leader-follower relationship. The results illustrate that several contextual factors moderate the leader-follower relationship at the individual (remote work, position level, length of relationship) and organizational (communication, culture, environment) levels. The TLM posits that follower trust mediates the relationship between transparent leader behaviors and multiple follower outcomes (personal value, meaningful work, performance, effort, engagement). The study highlights transparent leadership's value in addressing contemporary challenges faced by today’s leaders and offers a series of recommendations for business practice.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Leadership--Transparency; Followership

Date of Award


School Affiliation

George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Kevin S. Groves