Lose 3 Secrets As You Work on 2013 Goals

To open up new possibilities for your teams in the new year, I suggest a Leadership Gift resolution you may not have placed on your list: Eliminate all confidences that challenge your integrity and the integrity of your relationships.

That’s right. Starting today, I invite you to

  • refrain from creating new secrets
  • expose the secrets you’re holding, and
  • refuse to collude in keeping other people’s secrets (especially any that tempt you to act on undisclosed information)

Why such a bold challenge? Secrets create boundaries, barriers, and walls that require hefty resources to maintain. Secrets are expensive.

Particularly in terms of the considerable mental and emotional energies they take to keep them in place. If you doubt this, consider the resources governments and businesses devote to security, intelligence, and counter-intelligence. While we all bemoan the high taxes/prices required to protect “secrets,” you and I spend vast quantities of personal resources doing the same — when we actually have so little to lose!

A story might illustrate my point.

When the chip consortium SEMATECH was founded to pool resources from all the major chip manufacturers, 12 serious competitors (including IBM, Intel, National Semiconductor, Motorola and AMD) joined and sent representatives.

During the first few meetings, nobody talked! The meetings were frustrating and, in hindsight, hilarious. Months of meetings (translate: many hours of expensive expert time) were required to break down walls before representatives discovered EVERYONE had been sent with the same instructions from their own companies: “Listen. Learn what they know. But don’t say anything about what we know!”

Everybody thought the other side had semiconductor business secrets worth discovering. After weeks of withholding, participants finally learned that they pretty much already knew what each other knew. They just didn’t know they knew!

Secrets create boundaries that separate and distance us from others.

Those who favor secrets say that secrets bond together the people who share them. And it’s true that secrets bond together the few (think of code words and handshakes). But they also separate the few from many more. In fact, tight boundaries create exclusivity (read “exclude”) as much or more than they create inclusion.

As I consult with business people about productive relationships at work, I freely lend confidentiality. I do this because it’s an expected part of the “business game.”

Yet, doing so sometimes places me in the uncomfortable position of not being able to act on the most important information I acquire in the course of assisting the client.

For this reason, whenever possible, I build an additional expectation in the minds of clients these days. When I offer and agree to confidentiality, I also hold that I may return later and ask to renegotiate that promise.

In fact, in some of my most effective work, when I’m asked into “secrets,” I advise clients instead to take action themselves to eliminate the secret, thereby eliminating the boundary and solving the problem it created.

The reality is, many secrets hold lies in place that cost us more to maintain than the truth would.

Other secrets help us deny things about ourselves that decrease our real effectiveness.

Several years ago, in a discussion about confidentiality, a mentor told me, “You can repeat anything I say or do to anybody, anytime. I’m always willing to deal with the consequences I create.” Wow! Since then, I pause a long time before I create a secret or ask for confidentiality because I want to live as open and available as possible.

I invite you to try the same and see how it works for you.

Get Started With This Week’s 5-Minute Stretch


  1. one secret you’re currently creating and find an alternative strategy
  2. one secret you’re holding that you’d be better off exposing and do so, and
  3. one relationship where your collusion is causing more harm than good — and act on your realization.

Do Tell

Everyone has a story about someone trying to keep secret something that is better shared. What’s yours?

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Leadership on 01/16/2013 07:13 am
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