How Your Lack of Transparency is Destroying Your Team

Opacity kills.

People want to know what’s going on.  They expect their leaders to be up front with them and share information.

When “leaders” use information as a source of power, it’s the beginning of the end for their team.  People see right through that power grab and that “leader’s” trust quotient plummets.

Most of us know this yet many of us still hoard information.  Why?  It all seems very reasonable when we do.  The logic goes like this:

– I’m the team leader and I’ve been placed in a position of trust and responsibility.

– In that position of responsibility, I work on important things.

– Some of those things are so important that people can’t be told about them until they’re “ready” to be told.

– That means I have to withhold information from my people because it’s in their own best interests.


Rationalizing like this is the fastest way to get your people talking behind your back.  It gets them all atwitter (or even worse… on Twitter) at the water cooler wondering what the latest palace intrigue is.  They begin to wonder if the secret information you’re withholding is actually about them and then paranoia sets in.  And while all of this is going on, no work is getting done and people are freaking out.  And it’s all your fault.

But it can be prevented.

Simply tell people what’s going on.

The things you’re working on truly aren’t that secret.  It’s quite rare that a leader is involved in something that truly cannot be shared while it’s being worked on.  Sure, there are exceptions.  Layoffs, mergers, acquisitions, and nuclear launch codes are a few circumstances that come to mind where secrecy is required.  Other than that, not so much.

Even in those “secret” situations, you can likely share some information.  For example: “Hey folks, our costs are through the roof and the market has gotten a lot more competitive lately.  In order to survive as a company, we’re going to have to reduce some costs and yes, some of that cost cutting will require layoffs.  We will do everything we can to minimize the impact on folks and do things through attrition and early retirements.  In cases where we do need to lay people off, we will provide severance packages and outplacement services.  The senior leadership team is conducting their analysis now and we will have an answer for you no later than September 30th.  We anticipate doing one and only one round of layoffs.  That’s all I know and can share at the moment and I’ll be back with you as soon as I have more information to share.”

See?  Was that so hard?  Everyone knows what’s going on.  Sure, they’re scared but at least they know the rationale, the process, and the possible outcomes.  There’s much less risk they think something is happening in some secret star chamber.

Stop using information as a weapon.  When you exclude people from processes, don’t share how decisions will be made, and keep simple things hidden from your staff, they end up living in fear and ultimately resenting you.  That’s no longer a team and you’re no longer a leader in those situations.  Those are employees who haven’t been lucky enough to find a job somewhere else yet but I guarantee they’re looking.  And you’re nothing more than a conniving, information hoarding, insecure ass in their eyes.  It’s true.  I asked them.

The best way you can build that relationship with the members of your team is to provide them access to information.  Tell them what you know.  If you can’t tell them something, tell them why you can’t share the information as in the above example.  Let them know when they will have the information and ask them to be patient until that date.  And then deliver that information when you say you will.

So you can either choose to be a leader whose authority is predicated on having better access to information than those around you or you can be the leader whose authority is given to them by the team members being led.

If you’re an information hoarder, ask yourself why you’re doing it.  Be honest with yourself.  Try taking some small steps toward being more open with your team.  Pick a “secret” or two to let them in on.  Start sharing.  They’ll appreciate it and you’ll be more effective.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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3 Responses to “How Your Lack of Transparency is Destroying Your Team”

  1. […] Withholding information from your team members is the fastest way to destroy relationships and trust. Be more transparent and your team will be more loyal.  […]

    • Bill says:

      You are so very much on target. Time after time I have been pleasantly ‘surprised’ by the response from people when I have had to share less than good information… the surprise was in finding out that folks knew things were not going well and that something needed to be done… but they assumed others were not seeing. When I recently took action and did a small RIF, folks were on board, understood there were problems, understood and felt comfortable enough to ask questions about the actions being taken… it was an open discussion. I received letters of thanks from employees for being up front, sharing info and taking action to protect them and the organization. Good article – thanks for writing it!

      • Mike Figliuolo says:

        Thanks for reading and for sharing Bill. Bravo to you for being brave enough to be open with your team. I’m happy to hear you received the positive response one would hope for.

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