This post isn’t about leaders keeping secrets about sexual affairs, mismanaged money, or harassment. That’s bad enough. But this is about leaders who use secrets to control people and expand their power. Early in my career I worked for a leader who used secrecy to consolidate his authority. By withholding information from certain staff members, it became necessary to run everything through him – which made it obvious he was the guy in charge. But here’s why that’s a disaster waiting to happen:
1) Withholding information creates roadblocks to operating well. Certain people know things, and others don’t. That gets your team out of sync, and damages your ability to execute and deliver.
2) Withholding information creates resentment. It keeps people from reaching their potential and helping your organization succeed. It creates frustration, anger, and resentment that will eventually boil over.
3) Keeping secrets forces people to ask questions. People need to know the right information to do their job, and if you refuse to share information, they’ll ask other people. This creates falsehoods, inaccuracies, and gossip.
4) Finally, keeping secrets will eventually destroy you. Think of it for a second: How long can you keep remembering what you told each person? Tell a few employees some facts, others different facts, still others something else. You’ll always be looking over your shoulder, trying to remember what you told everyone. That will wear anyone out.
The bottom line is that while every organization has private information that shouldn’t be shared publicly, that’s not a leadership principle. Don’t hold secrets from your team, and more important, don’t use secrets to control people.
Have you ever worked for a leader who managed by keeping secrets from his or her team?