Open leadership builds trust

There are three ways to look at how society is informed. The first is that people are gullible and will read, listen to or watch just about anything.

The second is that most people require an informed intermediary to tell them what is good, important or meaningful.

The third is that people are pretty smart; given the means, they can sort things out for themselves, find their own version of the truth.

The means have arrived. The truth is out there.
–Dale Peskin, co-director, The Media Center

As United Methodists, we can draw a strong sense of assurance from the system that we have developed over the years for handling issues facing the church – a system that values open conversation, honest disagreement and Christian conferencing.

A case in point: The Council of Bishops recently heard an update on a study commission’s work focusing on clergy appointments. The bishops discussed the topic in an open meeting and in a public setting. Since it was newsworthy and important to the church, United Methodist News Service covered the discussion, noting in its coverage that the study commission’s work was still ongoing.

The two stories that the news team did – one on the council’s discussion, the other on reactions from clergy – sparked a lot of discussion on Facebook and on the comment pages accompanying the stories. The topic is clearly one that people care about and felt moved enough to comment on.

Deliberating on a challenging issue in an open meeting reflects well on the Council of Bishops and serves the greater good of the church. When issues are discussed in closed meetings, or when news is not reported about issues of consequence, the result is that the church is cut out of the conversation. Not informing the church about a major issue until a final report is presented is not the most constructive or transparent way to do the business of the denomination.

In contrast, open discussions can lead to conversations among a wider constituency. These conversations, in turn, can inform church leaders as they process an issue. In this case, news coverage of clergy appointments prompted people to speak out on the issue, and it generated conversations among the people most affected: church members and pastors themselves.

Openness and transparency give church members greater trust in their leaders. Likewise, open disagreements on an issue can be healthy and constructive, if done in a positive way. Leading a church or any other large organization can be messy. People don’t expect their leaders to always be perfect or in agreement with each other. Open and forthright deliberations, done in a spirit of Christian conversation (in United Methodism we speak of “holy conferencing”), go a long way to build trust and lead to a better-informed church.

A well-informed church is a blessing for good leaders because it becomes a partner in the journey and not just a passenger.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll look at how new media are enabling conversations in our age of disruptive technology and asynchronous communication. And I invite you to share your thoughts and carry the conversation forward.

One Response to “Open leadership builds trust”

  1. cspogue May 28, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    Don’t you think that the WorldWide Church issues would have benefited from a similar treatment? Instead, the announcement of the results is delayed for months after everyone knew they had failed badly and after the study committee went to a “five-star hotel” in Manila to issue a report without much direction.

    The same is unfortunately true of Bishop Stanovsky’s handling of the allegations against former Bishop Paup. Either Ed Paup did some bad things and needs to be held accountable for them or Bishop Stanovsky owes him a public apology for reviving charges that had already been dismissed.

    Finally, the same is true of the Trust Case involving GBCS. It has sat with the DC judge with two proposed findings of facts and conclusions for almost 18 months. Shouldn’t there be some sort of update? Is GBCS leadership afraid that they are going to lose so they aren’t pushing for a conclusion?

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