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Keeping and disclosing secrets

There are good and acceptable reasons for keeping a secret, privacy and confidentiality in all their forms being the most common. Over recent months, I have been watching a business change unfold badly and been puzzled about the motivation behind the secret-keeping of those in charge. The business change began with a senior manager not meeting expectations and ended with that person being replaced. As straightforward as this seems, there was much confusion about the end result (even the replacement manager wasn’t sure about the facts). On the surface, all this could be put down to poor communication. It was in fact a failure of leadership.

As a leader, there are some secrets that should never be kept. At the heart of this situation was a leader and a senior manager who had discussed off-target results in the business, and who also discussed the senior manager’s responsibility for those poor results – a good and necessary conversation but not sufficient.

A leader is responsible for making sure that the senior manager agreed with the analysis. A leader is responsible for making sure that the senior manager understood that the situation needed to change – how and by when. A leader is responsible for taking mitigating circumstances into account. A leader is responsible for making sure that the senior manager understands what will happen if the results do not improve – the direct and personal consequences.

Here, the senior manager simply focused on what had been heard. Secrets were kept by the leader.

It was a few small steps to plan a replacement. The former senior manager is gone and someone new is in place. No one was quite sure what happened and no one was sure what to tell clients.

Sometimes secret-keeping is simply a lack of courage. A leader is accountable at every step. Nothing can be taken for granted.

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