How To Be Transparent Without Oversharing

Over the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of supporting the personal and professional growth of 25 incredible nonprofit leaders, each of whom aspires to become an Executive Director.  

As I’ve watched them delve into what it takes to be an effective ED, I’ve been struck by their ability to zero in on and examine the most challenging elements of the Executive Director role.

Just last week the group of leaders lasered in on the topic of transparency.  On the surface, transparency may not seem that complex.  Share more information with people, and you’ll build a sense of trust, shared commitment, and authenticity in your organization.  Who doesn’t want that?

But start to peel back the layers of transparency (especially in the context of the Executive Director role), and it begins to reveal its complexity.

When the board is deliberating something big but hasn’t yet made a decision … when you get some bad news from a donor that will put a dent in your budget … when your staff is feeling frustrated and fed-up with the board (or vice versa) … when you’re feeling frustrated and fed-up … how much do you share with whom, and when and how do you share it?

Here are 3 quick tips that will help you be transparent without oversharing:

Slow down and weigh your options.

If you’re anything like me, when you learn some new piece of information (especially something that evokes an emotional reaction), your brain starts spinning.   Ok, WOW, what do I do with this?  I’ve gotta tell someone … no I can’t tell anyone … maybe I just tell my senior staff … or the board … do I tell them now or later? … what do I say?

Combat that flurry of brain activity with big deep breathe (or a few), and some good old, simple logic.

Ask yourself …

  • What are the potential rewards of sharing this information? (For the organization, for staff, and for me?)
  • What are the potential negative implications of sharing this information? (For the organization, for staff, and for me?)
  • What are the potential rewards of NOT sharing this information? (For the organization, for staff, and for me?)
  • What are the potential negative implications of NOT sharing this information? (For the organization, for staff, and for me?)

And if you love to exercise that left hemisphere of your brain as much as me, you might end up with a table like this:

What do you see when you look at the relative risks and rewards in the situation?  Which risks are you willing to take, and what steps could you take to minimize the impact of those risks?  Which rewards are you not willing to compromise?

Once you’ve taken the time and thought to weigh your options, make a clear and committed choice of what to share, and with whom.

Not ready to share all the information?  You can still be transparent.

If it’s not the right time to share all of the information you have, it doesn’t mean you have to be a complete black box.

Being transparent is about answering the questions that you know people have rattling around in their heads.  Sharing information will answer the “what” questions they have, so if you’re not ready to go there, you’ve still got 5 other avenues to explore – who, where, when, why, and how?

Sharing what is true about the process that is unfolding is a great way to get at some of those other questions.  If the board is deliberating something, what can you share about why they’re having those discussions, how long they’ll take, and when you’ll be able to provide more information?

Another powerful (and sometimes overlooked) window into transparency is to open up about what’s going on for you personally.  What has been your inner experience as a leader in this situation?  How has it challenged you, and what are you learning?  Now more than ever people are looking for their leaders to be human, imperfect, and vulnerable, so open up about what’s going on inside (in that head AND heart of yours), and you will build a new level of trust and transparency in your organization.

Ask for transparency in return.

Transparency flows much more freely as a two-way street.  Create a culture of transparency in your organization by delivering it AND asking for it in return.  When you share a message with your staff or your board, encourage them to open up in return.  Ask them – How is this hitting you?  What are you wondering? What ideas do you have?  What more are you looking for?

And here’s the trick to getting this part right … you must listen.  And I mean, really listen.  Listen to what they’re expressing, listen to what they’re feeling.  Don’t worry about how you’re going to respond, or whether you’re going to be able to gracefully deal with whatever they bring up … just listen and connect.  You don’t have to solve all of their problems right then and there, or make any promises; it’s enough to just say “I hear you.  Thank you for sharing.”

Now, I’d love to hear from YOU.

Have you ever struggled with balancing transparency and oversharing as a leader?  What transparency tips and tricks have worked for you?  Let me know in the comment section below!

Thank you, as always, for reading, contributing, and sharing.

Lots of love an appreciation,
Jen xo