Beyond transparency to leadership engagement

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Transparency is the New Leadership Imperative” according to a new post by Dorie Clark on the HBR Blog Network. On the surface, that seems hard to argue with. But in reality, you can be a flagrant dictator, and that’s pretty transparent. But that doesn’t mean you’re a good leader.

To be fair, Ms. Clark’s post doesn’t just talk about transparency. As a matter of fact, I’d argue that the title is a bit of a misnomer. What she’s really talking about is leadership engagement. Leadership engagement includes transparency, but it also includes listening.

Here’s a true story to illustrate the subtle difference.

At Prospero & Partners, we work with a lot of trade associations. We recently carried out some member research for one of them at a time when the board was looking at ways to streamline how the association works. The board proposed significant changes to the bylaws that would require approval by the general assembly. Given the full agenda of the short general assembly, that basically meant putting a yes/no proposition to the membership. Take it or leave it. The board had acted in all transparency, respecting delays for informing the members of the vote, etc.

At the same time, our research revealed a strong call from the members for a more consultative decision-making process. They weren’t asking for just transparency; they wanted greater and broader participation in setting the association’s agenda and making decisions.

Our suggestion to the client? Use technology to allow the members to have a voice before they arrive at the general assembly. That way if there is a general feeling of discontent, the board will know and be able to reconsider the proposal before the day of the vote. If the change proves contentious, this could potentially prevent a rift in the organization.

That suggestion is, of course, just a stop-gap measure, not the entire solution. The wider issue of participation and consultation needs to be addressed (without, of course, falling into the extreme opposite of total inaction because of endless consultations).

With all of the inexpensive, accessible and high-performing information and communications technology available today, there is little excuse for not being more consultative. However, just having the latest, shiny toys does not guarantee that they will produce the desired outcome.

Can Prospero & Partners help you achieve leadership based on engagement? Talk to us about diagnostic research to identify organizational needs and possible solutions. We also act as trusted advisors to leaders during the transitions to greater participation and engagement. Contact us today for more information about our research, training and advising services.

Photo credit: iStock

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