Leadership Confidential: Can You Keep A Secret?
The fates of corporations, organizations and individuals sometimes rest on leaked information.
We’re not talking here about inside intel on nefarious actions such as sexual harassment, violence, data breaching or anything illegal.
This is about confidential personal information you may share or a colleague may share with you. Can you keep a secret? Can you be trusted?
According to CNBC, research from New York University finds that for women leaders, “trustworthy” is one of the top five positive traits, along with good-natured, sincere, tolerant and happy. For male leaders, trustworthy is not mentioned as a trait for a successful leaders.
The kinds of secrets on the table here are about relationships, plans to pursue other jobs, personal goals, perhaps health. And a confidential health issue if breached, has legal consequences. These secrets if spilled would be devastating to the individual, but would have little to no impact on the organization.
Of course if anyone shares information about something illegal happening such as harassment, violence, theft or a data breach, you do need to share. But if a colleague tells you she is looking for another job because her partner is moving to another state, you need to stay mum.
The irony here is that when employees in an organization do learn of an illicit secret that is harmful, they do keep quiet.
Recently in Harvard Business Review, University of Maryland’s Insiya Hussain, a behavioral scientist, and Subra Tangirala, Professor of Management and Organization at Robert H. Smith School of Business, write that when many in an organization know of “an open secret,” they do not report it.
“Indeed, our research shows that when multiple individuals know about an issue, each of them experiences a diffusion of responsibility or the sense that they need not personally take on any costs or burden associated with speaking up. They feel that others are equally knowledgeable and, hence, capable of raising the issue with top management. They find it convenient to psychologically pass on the accountability of speaking up to others, and this makes them less likely to speak up themselves.”
The researchers add, “Employees are afraid of standing up and speaking truth to power. Managers who explicitly reward rather than punish acts of individual courage can get their employees off the sidelines to act as engaged citizens at the workplace.”
The bad news is at times, managers or colleagues in the workplace use personal information shared privately to harm another. This kind of behavior, writes Christine Hammond writes in PsychCentral belongs to “Machievellians.”
“The guiding belief is to maintain personal power at all costs. They justify pitting one person against others, neglect to share important information, spread false rumors, backstab, and use other manipulative behaviors to get what they want.”
Career expert and author Ilene Marcus tells Reader’s Digest that you need to take action if a boss or colleague betrays your trust, “Although some of their marks and comments may be issues you have discussed in your evaluations or one-on-one meetings, if it’s happening publicly, even under the breath, your first priority is to stop trusting and figure out a plan of action to address the situation.”
You never want to be the kind of leader who if a colleague shares she has a second job to support a family member in crisis, that you would exploit that info to get ahead yourself. Here are four tips on being a trustworthy leader who earns the confidence of colleagues, coworkers and team members.
Be a good teammate. “If you want to create a culture that will produce breakthrough results, collaboration trumps competition by a long shot,” Teneya Gholston, Creme of Nature’s senior director of marketing, tells Rolling Out. “You want people to share their individual strengths and pool those strengths in moving toward a common vision. It is essential that anyone I partner with is positive, trustworthy, hardworking, passionate and energetic. “
Build a track record of keeping secrets. If your team members and colleagues have a history with you of being able to share something that is not betrayed, you will earn the loyalty of your team. They may not share with anyone else what they share with you, but they will let others know you can be trusted. Your reputation for being honest and earnest will build.
Create a culture of trust. Lindsay Tiger writes in Reader’s Digest, “Part of the role of an employer is to educate their employees both professionally and interpersonally, which means being respectful of any sensitivities and never making someone feel uncomfortable in front of their teammates.” What someone tells you one-on-one stays private.
Do you know whom to trust and why? It would be difficult to become trustworthy as a professional colleague if you do not have a role model for trustworthiness in your professional arena. Check out your own habits and behaviors, suggests Kathy Caprino in Forbes. “If you chronically trust the wrong people, the key is to slow down, conduct a thorough, balanced and unemotional assessment of this individual and this opportunity, and also ask for trusted outside input to effectively evaluate the best next step in your life. The ultimate step to a more successful life and career is to develop more courage, confidence, self-esteem and strength to sense clearly what your internal guidance is telling you, and to “find brave” to rise up, speak up and stand up strongly for what you want, for who you are, and for the great outcomes you richly deserve.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com