Earlier this year, I promised/threatened to write about transparency and leadership. But whenever I think about writing that post, it feels a bit overwhelming — too big a topic for one blog post. So, let’s hope that this is the first of several posts where I write about some aspect of transparency and leadership.
For me, an important aspect of transparent leadership is sharing information — as much as possible, as soon as possible, and as widely as possible. When deciding what information to share and how wide an audience to share with, I try to make the default be “share everything with everyone”, so that any decision that falls short of that has to be justified. Some examples of information I decided early on to share widely are my calendar (open to everyone. In fact, if anyone wants to see it, let me know and I can send you a link), and professional travel allocations (open to all of my staff).
There are plenty of circumstances where sharing everything with everyone is not possible, or not advisable. Sometimes there are legal or privacy reasons to keep quiet–in fact someone told me once that the higher up you move in an organization, the more secrets you have to keep. And there may be times where sharing incomplete information might actually be harmful to staff morale if you aren’t able to answer questions. Waiting until full information is available is sometimes better than sharing partial information right away. Most situations require careful judgment to figure out what to share, when, and with whom. But for me, assuming that “share everything with everyone” is the starting point, and then working back from that when necessary helps me be more transparent. It has also turned out to be a great way to get my colleagues to articulate any reasons they might have for not sharing information widely.
And here’s the thing — I really, really want to be a transparent leader. And I really want to share information widely and quickly. And despite my best intentions, I still have to work at it, and I have to remind myself constantly to do it. Because our cultures are not built around that kind of transparency, and because the default is usually to share on a “need to know” basis.
For example, we have email lists which divide the organization’s members into neat little sets, precisely so we can share information with only some people and not everyone (I’m guessing we aren’t the only large academic library with a crap-ton of email lists). I think when most of us think about sharing information with our staff (or with external stakeholders), we start by thinking about who to share the information with and add on to that; instead of starting with the assumption that we will share with everyone then back off from that when/if needed. And I am constantly being cautioned (sometimes by a voice in my own head) to be careful about not flooding people’s email with information not directly related to their jobs. But, I prefer to err on the side of flood rather than draught. I want to trust my staff to monitor their own information consumption, rather than deciding for them what might be interesting or helpful to them.
So, that is part of what transparent leadership means to me. And to be completely transparent, I will confess that my ulterior motive in posting this is so that it will serve as a reminder to me to follow my own advice and to provide me with a sense of public accountability.