Public leadership, transparency and the world of social media

levy-articlePaul Levy “They all get the idea that if we’re transparent about what we’re bad at as well as what we’re good at, we’ll get better.”  That’s a quote by Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, speaking about his staff. Levy maintains a leadership blog called Running a hospital where he regularly shares “thoughts about hospitals, medicine, and health care issues.” You can also follow Levy on Twitter.

I’ve been thinking about Northfield (my hometown) area public leadership, transparency, and social media tools this week for four reasons.

  1. Northfield City Adminstrator Joel Walinski has invited me to speak about civic engagement technologies for 10 minutes to the Northfield City Council next Monday at their work session.  See my previous blog posts on Locally Grown about civic engagement here, here, and here.
  2. Tonight I’m going to the Northfield School District’s Key Communicator Network meeting (I blogged about this on Locally Grown here). The District has received some criticism lately for its handling of the proposed calendar changes and the SNL cancellation.
  3. Tuesday, I blogged about a new book titled The School Administrator’s Guide to Blogging by Mark Stock.  
  4. Last Monday’s council meeting at which the lack of trust and respect were evidently issues. See the Northfield News article, City, townships don’t see eye-to-eye on annexation.

Lots can be learned by watching how Levy uses his blog and Twitter as a public leader. For example:

There’s a continuing stream of both good and bad news stories like these at all our Northfield area institutions that serve the public in some capacity: the city, the townships, the county, the schools, the colleges, the hospital.  And yet we rarely hear about them.  The ‘bad news’ stories too often never see the light of day. And the ‘good news’ stories are too often spun in such a way that they’re either not believable or they’re ignored. Not always, just too often IMHO.

The increasing pervasiveness of social media tools means, in part, that local leaders have less ability to keep a lid on issues of public concern. (Employee ‘leaks’ travel far and fast. Citizens with blogs pry more effectively.) So ratcheting up the transparency (along with judicious amounts of authenticity and engagement) is a smart strategy. The end result, as Levy says, is the institutions get better at what they do. And that’s what we, the public, want to see. And when we do, we’ll applaud it, thereby encouraging the virtuous cycle to continue and spread.