Inspiring Transparent Leadership to retain staff, keep positive team morale, and motivate team members to be fulfilled in their job roles

Streamed Session Leadership Equity and Inclusion

Brief Abstract

The presenters will share ways they have implemented Transparent Leadership practices to retain staff and build a trusting and positive work environment for their team. They will discuss benefits and challenges they have experienced and call on the audience to share their experiences, ideas, and best practices in a discussion format.


Dr. Dawn Coder is the Senior Director for Academic Advising & Student Disability Services (AA&SDS) for The Pennsylvania State University, World Campus. She has over fifteen years’ experience in the field of higher education and online learning in both public and private institutions, and twenty years’ experience in a leadership role. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Penn State, a master’s degree from Penn State in Adult Education and a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from Liberty University. She has five published articles related to academic advising and student success, restructuring an advising department, leadership, retention in higher education, and development of a faculty advising course. And a book chapter published related to artificial intelligence business needs. She has presented at professional conferences including NACADA, UPCEA, Madison-Wisconsin’s Distance Learning and Teaching, and Noel Levitz. Dawn was the recipient of NACADA Region 2’s Advising Administrator award and received an Advising Administrator Certificate of Merit from NACADA’s Annual Award Nominations. Her team has won several awards under her leadership including an Inclusiveness Award from Outreach & Online Education, an Effective Practice Award from the Online Learning Consortium, The Partnership Award from UPCEA, NACADA’s Advising Technology Innovation Award, and Google’s Customer Award-Education.
Stephanie Vlajic is an Assistant Director for Academic Advising and Student Disability Services at The Pennsylvania State University, World Campus. Stephanie has over 15 years of experience in Higher Education and ten years of leadership experience in the field. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree in English from Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

Extended Abstract

There are many benefits, and if being honest, challenges to transparent leadership. The presenters are defining Transparent Leadership as choosing to create an environment that provides opportunities to share feedback, and information, from both leaders in a top-down manner, as well as from team members in an upward manner. Opening a conversation creates an environment of trust, but also creates the opportunity for team members to vent, share ideas that may not align with strategies, and might encourage innovation that creates conflict. So, why transparent leadership? Because it supports trust, open communication and honesty, positive innovative ideas, and a positive team morale. The beginning of transparent leadership in this team began with a concept called Mutual Goodwill. The concept of Mutual Goodwill asks that in all communications, whether it be a difficult conversation or asking questions, those involved show goodwill by not assuming any underlying agenda. The assumption is that all involved in the conversation are genuine in the context, regardless of past interactions including the tone of those interactions. All communication has the assumption of being positive and helpful to each other. Honesty and trust are developed, positive relationships are developed, and a culture of helping one another is the result of practicing Mutual Goodwill. Its foundation is Servant Leadership, but it takes the population of only including leaders following certain characteristics and requests that all team members, regardless of job title, follow those characteristics (Coder, 2018). 

In what ways can a leader be transparent and gather valuable feedback from team members? In this educational discussion, the presenters will offer examples of practices they have implemented and used for several years. These examples include holding topic conversations, creating opportunities for mentorship, chartering a DEIB Committee, providing team members the ability to be intrusive when filling out performance


The senior director of the unit holds “topic” conversations with small groups of team members. In 2022, the topic conversation asked, “How Can I Help You Do Your Job Better?” The topic will begin the conversation and encourages both low hanging fruit ideas, as well as pie in the sky ideas. This conversation will give examples of how the meetings are hosted, how using a priority voting concept develops strategies for a unit to identify goals, and provides the outcomes of those ideas. In this interactive discussion, the presenters will request ideas and experiences from the audience to share examples of how they are following transparent conversations. 

The presenters will share how their experience creating opportunities for mentorship has contributed to building trust and positive team morale, while providing team members with opportunities for professional growth. These opportunities, to either be a mentor for a colleague in another role or to be mentored by a colleague, provide an avenue for staff to explore different roles on the team, learn from and build relationships with their teammates, and gain skills and experience for potential advancement. 

The Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee was developed in 2020 with intentional expectations to ensure it was not another committee that just existed. The committee includes one leader and four team members. The committee offers an anonymous form that anyone can fill out with questions related to DEIB, with concerns related to conversations or team offerings, and to offer suggested future programming. The expectations will be presented in detail and include, hosting a monthly diversity event, partnering with other committees to include DEIB, post and teach about current and special events, hold a two-hour retreat, have a mission and vision statement with team buy-in, create a service project, collaborate with other diversity groups, and represent DEIB on all hiring committees.

An important component of transparent leadership is being open about how decisions are made regarding performance evaluation. The presenters will share how they approach this sometimes-sensitive topic with transparency, and how doing so has led leadership to create more opportunities for staff to be involved in the performance review process. 

Lastly, a conversation will be encouraged to discuss challenges when using Transparent Leadership and will ask the audience how challenges are reduced through brainstorming ideas when overcoming the most difficult ones. Individuals will learn from these examples how to implement Transparent Leadership. Best practices will be discussed, along with areas that the presenters are still working on and would like to learn from the audience how to overcome! We ask that you bring your ideas, your thoughts, your advice to share with the audience!

At a time when many current events topics include titles like “The Great Resignation”, “Quiet Quitting”, “The Return of Performance Reviews”, “The Importance of Diversity, Inclusive, Equitable, and Belonging to Teams”, and “High Staff Turnover” seem to be constantly discussed, Transparent Leadership is an answer that has worked well for this team to ensure the team is not negatively impacted by these current events.