I’m out of the loop! No one ever tells me anything! Why do they keep everything so close to the vest? How come they don’t share with us? I want to help make a decision about my destiny, why can’t I be included?
These are all words I hear myself saying about leaders. These are also words I hear people saying about me as a leader and various leadership teams I am a part of. I am on both sides (all sides?) of this leadership conundrum around engagement and communication.
Where is the sweet spot? The truth is, I am not sure there is one? I can tell you this. I know how I feel when I am out of the loop. When I discover that leaders have information that they chose not to share with me, that could have helped me do my job better or helped me, my team or organization gain credibility in front of a client, community or family member: I am hurt. I feel disconnected. I feel betrayed.
I can also tell you that I sit in leadership meetings and talk about timing with regard to sensitive information. I know what it is like to have knowledge that can hurt or help people, news that will dramatically impact their lives. I know what it feels like to be on “the other side” and make decisions about the best way and the best “when” to share information people need. I know what it is like to wrestle with sharing the imperfect, the volatile, the frightening and even the really joyful, good news (but not too soon.)
I’ve read about organizations where everything is transparent. I have no idea what that even looks like in real life? I know I have never been a part of a 100% transparent organization. I have been close. I have witnessed, up close, the heart of leaders who want nothing but the best for their organizations and share everything they can as soon as they can. I have seen the opposite as well. Leaders who hoard information. Leaders who leverage intelligence and news for their own benefit, high on the “sexy” drugs of status, secrecy and self-importance. I confess, I’ve been (am?) one of these leaders too.
Where’s the sweet spot? As I said, I am not sure, but this is a blog, after all, so I’ll take a shot! I think it comes down to two things. Servant Leadership and Trust. The sweet spot is when you only make decisions about holding back information in the vain of serving those you lead. The answer lies in trusting people with as much information as you know they can manage without creating confusion or hysteria. The magic formula is building that trust, most of the time, by sharing and being transparent, even if it slows you down. You do this, so that in the rare instances, when you need to withhold information to protect people or your organization, you can do that and those you lead will, begrudgingly, understand and forgive you. The sweet spot is about serving those you lead so well, they have no doubt about your motives. The answer to whether you hit the spot or not, only comes later, when you find they will still follow you anywhere you lead them. If you see that you have withheld critical information and you still have an engaged and loyal team, you have found the magic mark. You know you are there when you find you have retained, or perhaps, gained trust out of a “situation of withholding.”
So much easier said than done. So much risk is required. So much damage can be done if you aren’t honest with yourself as a leader. With each juicy nugget of information, look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself. If I keep this to myself or a small circle, who am I serving? Who am I protecting? If the answer to either of those is you, you are not in the sweet spot of leadership. If you make it a habit, you may soon find yourself “out of the loop” as well.