Transparency vs. Confidentiality

I’ve written before about the idea that there are tensions in ministry that need to be managed. I believe that one of the most common in leadership is the tension between confidentiality and transparency.

As leaders, we deal with many issues that require some measure of confidentiality, especially when it comes to staff and human resource issues. There are discussions at the top of an organization that just can’t be shared fully with everyone in the organization.

At the same time, those in the organization rightly expect some level of transparency. Without it, we run the risk of appearing aloof, or even worse, dishonest or trying to hide something.

Where is the balance between confidentiality and transparency? I don’t have an easy answer but here are some principles:

The more honest you are about the majority of issues in the organization, the more grace people will give you when you do have to cite confidentiality. If everything is a hush-hush issue, trust breaks down in a hurry. People fill in the blanks with their own version of a story if you don’t give them enough information most of the time.

When it comes to personnel issues, tread VERY carefully. This is probably the biggest source of tension, especially when a staff member resigns or is disciplined or released. There are many considerations: the dignity of the staff person, truthfulness to the congregation, ¬†potential legal concerns. Unfortunately, some leaders are more worried about how the issue will impact people’s perception of them, than on how it impacts these other parties and long-term organizational health.

Make sure you have clear communication systems in place. Do people know where to go to find information about the latest leadership decisions or other organizational information? Are those systems actually utilized, maintained and updated regularly? Again, regular communication builds trust and understanding.

Where have you experienced tension between confidentiality and transparency, and how have you managed it?


One thought on “Transparency vs. Confidentiality

  1. Bev Murrill says:

    Transparency is one of our organisations specific values. The unique thing about transparency as it operates in an organisation is that it begins with the individual regarding their own life. If a leader can be transparent regarding themself and their own issues, it encourages others in the organisation to be open about their own lives. When people can sit and discuss issues with personal agendas on the table for all to see, as opposed to attempting to negotiate the complexities of running an organisation where everyone's agenda is hidden, breakthrough begins to come on every side.

    Accountability is not the same as transparency, because thought accountability requires the accountable person to be open, they get to choose how open. Transparency implies a choice by a person to never attempt to hide their personal issues.

    Transparency gets my vote every time.

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