Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Accountability

Someone on the Board is Leaking Information. What Should I Do?

Dear Crucial Skills,

I’m the chair of an organization and someone on the board is leaking information. Someone made a derogatory comment about a person in a board meeting, and someone on the board told that person. I have addressed the issue of confidentiality before, so this is a violation of that expectation. Leaks like this undermine board trust and other relationships. How should I approach this?

Leaky Board

Dear Leaky Board,

You’re right to take this issue seriously. This is a material violation of trust that undermines the board’s ability to deliberate about sensitive issues. Each board member must be willing to place their commitment to board integrity and organizational interests over their kinship with particular employees. For the purposes of my response, I will assume you have unassailable evidence that the leak came from a board member. If so, I suggest the following.

Address It Privately

If you know who the offending board member is, confront them privately. Consult legal counsel about whether you should do it in company with one other board member. Share the evidence of their breach of board integrity then invite them to respond. Listen sincerely but without allowing easy dismissal of the compelling evidence. But be open to persuasive mitigating information that could come to light in the course of the conversation.

Repair or Resign?

If they acknowledge some level of impropriety, you must decide whether remediation is possible and preferable. Is the board member such a significant asset that even with damaged trust they are worth keeping? Is the board member willing to acknowledge error with those who have been harmed (the board and those individuals affected)? Weigh your responses to these questions in your deliberation about whether to ask them to resign or remedy the situation—and what form the remedy should take.

Investigate Thoroughly

If you don’t know who the offending board member is, raise the issue with the board, including sharing the evidence of breach of confidence. Ask for the board’s views on both the severity of and appropriate response to the incident. If they agree that it is a material breach of trust, and an issue worth pursuing to resolution, you might propose an appropriate investigation process. Even if the investigation is inconclusive, you will have still sent a message to board members of the seriousness with which such violations will be addressed.

The best case scenario is that someone who erred acknowledges it and commits to do better. The second best outcome is for the undiscovered offender to be put on notice by your vigorous response that board integrity is a value you will fight for.

I wish you the best in restoring trust to your board. The best boards and teams I’ve worked on are ones where it’s okay to be human. Mistakes are understood, but improvement is expected.


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Accountability

4 thoughts on “Someone on the Board is Leaking Information. What Should I Do?”

  1. Marvin

    Hi Joseph,

    I find this conversation very interesting. It seems that while the Board is taking this breach of trust quite seriously, it appears that the instance of one of the Board members making a derogatory statement insignificant. This comes across to me as being hypocritical and sends a very loud statement of “us” and “them”! While I agree with you that a breach of trust is a very important ingredient to foster an atmosphere of open and transparency within the Board, but acceptance of a Board member making disparaging statements about anyone should be met with the same vigor and confronted as well. This too is inappropriate behavior, isn’t it?

    I’m very much interested in your response.

    Kindest regards,

    1. Renee

      I completely agree with Marvin and would appreciate Joseph’s response to his valid concerns. Derogatory comments about others in executive sessions creates a toxic dynamic of “us” and “them,” as Marvin said. That erodes trust and diminishes a “we’re all in this together” cooperative and collaborative dynamic.

    2. Joseph Grenny

      I agree Marvin. Thanks for pointing that out. I focused so much on the trust issue that I neglected this similarly important concern.

    3. David

      The way questions are phrased do create a biased answer.
      This is easily missed. I also had missed Marvin’s pick-up on the “Derogatory comments about others as an issue in itself”.
      It takes a legal mind to see through this phrasing of questions.

Leave a Reply