Vulnerability or Performance?

Transparency requires a certain courage

On a personal level, I’ve learned about the danger of pursuing certainty and control at all costs – it smothers everything. Likewise, I’ve learned that transparency requires a certain courage and vulnerability. Personal transparency, although risky, is transformational. The readings this week address the organizational application of these same attitudes and postures of transparency, and courage as vulnerabiltiy. It seems paradoxical but courage is manifested in being transparent, vulnerable and engaged. In an organization, this means that leaders are accessible and straightforward, and that successes, failures, problems and victories are all communicated openly. Libraries, like businesses, are seeking increased trust from their intended audiences and it is “necessary for them to be prudently transparent in ways that matter to their stakeholders” (Lincoln, 2009).

Trust is too important to play around with

As in personal relationships, lack of transparency in organizations is not really an option. It is always best practice to behave ethically and share openly, whether with staff on internal matters or with clients and interested others. I was particularly moved with the steps outlined toward organizational transparency in The Transparent Library: A Road Map to Transparency (Casey & Stephens, 2007). In fact, they are so important that I include them here:

  • Give your staff multiple avenues for open communication, including internal blogs and vertical teams.
  • Visit front-line staff regularly.
  • Cross-train staff so they have a sense of what their fellow front-line workers do all day.
  • Encourage new ideas and the hearing of ideas among all levels of staff and with the public.
  • Provide learning opportunities for all staff, including regional and web conferences. Start a Learning 2.0 initiative so that staffers can learn from the comfort of their own desk. Reinforce their knowledge of the library’s mission and introduce them to the planning process and how things get done at all levels of library administration and management.
  • Invite staff (on the clock) to attend governance meetings and other user community gatherings to get to know the political leadership.
  • Get all departments, all divisions, to plan their projects as a group so everyone knows (and can prepare for) what’s on the upcoming calendar and so everyone can offer input and suggestions.

Engagement vs. Performance

That transparency is manifest to differing degrees in organizations is an understatement. Our local realities may allow for differing levels of transparency; ideally, we hope to move in cultures of honest, constructive, and engaged feedback. In her book Daring Greatly, social researcher Brene’ Brown discusses the lie of perfectionism and the shame that accompanies it – shame that puts up false facades and only allows for performances, shutting down genuine conversation and engagement (Brown, 2012). Although she is speaking of the reality in our personal lives, the same dynamics come into play in organizational life. When organizations put up false fronts, or require that their employees do so, they are squelching vulnerability and the opportunity for genuine engagement – both internally amongst staff and externally with clients and partners. Engagement is the antithesis of performance. If the hyperlinked library is to engage staff and clients in participatory service and learning, it must be transparent. If otherwise, the types of creative and generative connections and conversations we hope for cannot happen. Perfection-based and closed environments only allow for performances – by staff and by users. The hyperlinked library thrives on engagement. Genuine and authentic engagement occurs in transparent environments. __________________________


Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Gotham Books. Casey, M. & M. Stephens (2007). Road Map to Transparency: Lincoln, M. (2009). Transparency:

4 thoughts on “Vulnerability or Performance?

    1. The book is more for personal growth. It addresses transparency and vulnerability on a personal level, but doesn’t really get into organizational transparency… but many of the truths she explores are applicable on both a personal and organizational level – since an organization is a living organism 🙂

  1. The bulleted list you inserted from the Library Journal article was golden. I sent the link to that article to the staff in my office–it came on the tail of a heated discussion about frustration that they are not listened to, and how that is creating problems in daily work. everyone was truly inspired! This is not the last time i’ll be discussing the list, i’m sure!

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