Friday, July 25, 2008

Finding the Leadership Balance between Revealing and Filtering

It is widely acknowledged that effective leadership requires balance. One of the most challenging tasks is finding a balance between revealing and filtering.

New leaders often move toward the extremes. Some disclose far too much to their teams and overlook the harm that can be done when tales of upper-level disputes and personality conflicts are passed along. In the name of openness, these leaders sometimes use disclosure to deflect the blame for unpopular actions. It wasn't my decision, their stories imply, but instead was imposed on me from the powers that be.

Other leaders are clams. They give little if any description of the reasoning behind various policy decisions and attain an almost machine-like attitude of "Here's the official line. Follow it." Team members sense a rigidity that shuts down further discussion.

Wise leaders understand that there can be discreet disclosure; the type that gives a sense of the rationale behind certain policies without revealing the dirty details of management slugfests that may have prefaced the decision. These leaders disclose reasoning, not personalities. Their attitude is not robotic but conveys a willingness to discuss employee concerns. At the same time, it signals that the leader is going to do what is necessary to make the program work and that blaming the folks upstairs is not in the equation.

The key question is "What should be disclosed in order for the team to be effective over both the short and long term?" A key recognition is that there are four teams: those who report to the leader, the managers at an equal level, those to whom the leader reports, and the ultra-team that is the entire organization.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, it was great!


Mary Jo Asmus, President, Aspire Collaborative Services LLC said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your post - great food for thought.

As an executive coach, I've also found leaders can be out of balance in the information they reveal (or hold back) about their personal lives. I encourage those who hold back, to find some way of comfortably revealing enough about themselves to begin to create the bonds and relationships that are important to effective leadership.

However, damage can be done by those who reveal too much about their personal lives. "Too much information", in this case, can undermine the leader's efforts to influence or motivate others - there are many who don't want to know the intimate details of leader's personal life. There is a line that can be crossed in the type of information a leader reveals, so some must learn what is appropriate and what needs filtering.

You can check out another aspect of leadership balance on my blog at