Lakeside

Non-Profit Leadership: How Transparency Can Help in a Crisis

In the journey of any non-profit difficult issues can happen. Whether it be a drastic change in revenue, a technological crisis, terminations, changes in program demands, changes in leadership, etc. Particularly when things happen that are unethical or worse it is often difficult to know how to process the issues with staff. Sometimes it is even perplexing to know what can be shared and what can’t from a confidential or legal basis.

I was reminded recently about this type of incident when we faced it ourselves. The stress of anticipated staff reactions, judgements, misinterpretations, and rumors are very interesting to deal with. It can cause differing opinions, controversy, anger, and fear for leadership and for staff.

Leaders know there is an inherent distrust in leadership. No matter how good relationships are, there is a cultural default to think that leaders are trying to hide something or that what is presented is not entirely true. It is extremely difficult when a leader is made aware of all the details, but can only share part of the story and then need to face their staff with an explanation. These are days where it is not fun to be in the leadership role.

However, these situations are not necessarily hopeless. Though they may be difficult, it does provide an opportunity for leadership to be as transparent as they can and earn trust with their staff in the midst of difficult circumstances. Our staff want to see authenticity whether it is an emotion, the practical facts, or the anticipated outcomes. 

It is important that we not hide behind emails or texts, although at times they can be expedient and helpful. However, for the staff members who are directly affected by certain circumstances, they need a face-to-face meeting with leaders who will be truthful, factual, and transparent. Most employees understand that there are boundaries to any communication and information that can and cannot be said. That too is a part of the communication where leaders can be transparent.

The communication needs to be calm, hopeful, and where possible have an optimistic outcome.  There needs to be empathy for significant changes and the impact it has on their job or lives. It is also important that there is provision for further processing as well as the meeting of any practical needs that the employees may have. Also there needs to be the offer to meet another time personally if new information is discovered. 

As a concluding part of this communication there needs to be opportunities for staff members to share their feelings, encourage one another, and bring perspective on the situation. Possibly there may be some new developments, strategies, and perspectives that may be offered. These ideas are important to their safety, hope, and future anticipations.

All in all, it is important that any crisis be faced together. This kind of transparency can bring a commonality around the crisis and could break down some of the silos that might divide certain individuals from leadership. By showing this kind of empathy, support, and honesty, even a crisis can build a resonant and positive relationship between leadership and staff. There is something incredibly valuable about the kind of transparency that builds trust and safety.

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