April 05


The Secret To Leadership Isn’t A Secret

Top SecretThere is a saying that goes “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead”.  While this may be the creed of the professional  intelligence officer, in the world of the leadership of human beings by other human beings, the goal is the opposite.  The temptation to keep secrets can often be the undoing of the new leader. Wherever, or whatever, your “office” may be, nothing good usually comes from bogarting information.  Why then, is this a topic for discussion?

First of all, it is a common perception that knowledge is power.  Thus, the new manager, privy to a new level of information, has at least the power of knowledge over their subordinates. Long-time managers who have forgotten what their position is all about often use information to control their relationships with others, by carefully doling out bits and pieces as needed, to their advantage.  The goal of this type of behavior is to build one’s own “cool kids” to ensure loyalty.  The basis for this relationship, unfortunately, is a lack of trust and general insecurity on the part of the leader.Secret II

Another common reason for keeping the information highway blocked is fear.  New managers are fearful of distributing the wrong information, or communicating too soon, or communicating at all, lest they give away some manager secret decoder ring material. Above all, this type of manager is always trying to “protect” their team from bad news, or bad perceptions, or just being unsure of the answer.

Lastly, apathy is a factor in the communication plan of many managers.  They simply don’t care whether people might want, or need, to know the info and put little or no effort into developing a coherent strategy for pushing the word down to where it needs to be.

Let there be no doubt that the cornerstone of a successful organization is communication.  The number of secrets should be small, and well-developed.  The usual HR information, personal conversations with managers, and things of that nature have an expectation of privacy between sender and receiver and are not the point of this particular blog. Rather, it is the day-to-day “stuff” that you as the manager are privy to that needs to be pushed out in order to have value.  You should always clearly define with your boss or management team exactly what the guidance is on a piece of information.  At the same time, if you are heading a team of managers, ensure that everything that gets passed to you has a clear definition for re-transmission.

There are some clear-cut opportunities to share that you should always take.  Your organization’s strategic direction and how it affects decisions should be at the top of the list. You should know what is going on in your profession and be ready to give your “take” on the future. You should be candid about any emerging trends and how it might affect the work that your team does.  Your team values your opinion.

Secret IIIThe challenge of withholding information is even another opportunity to build trust. When you are privy to something that cannot be shared, don’t share it, no matter how tempting. Never use it as a “tool” by telling people you know something that you can’t tell. If asked, be honest that you have been asked to keep it confidential.  Although people may be disappointed, it is likely that when they come to you in confidence in the future that they are doing so because you have a track record of keeping your mouth shut and maintaining a personal confidence.

Sharing information builds trust and loyalty. Period. It is one of your most potent tools as a manager with which to address any deficiencies in those areas and a surefire way to tear it down if you are so inclined. When the team knows what is happening, they feel included.  Teammates that feel included contribute more, and are more willing to collaborate.  Trust breeds trust.  If you are too insecure, or suspicious to share information that has no value in being held secret, don’t be surprised if you have difficulty generating any excitement for followership.