TMI: Leaders Who Share Too Much

September 30, 2013 — 30 Comments

iStock 000000440585XSmall 300x300 TMI:  Leaders Who Share Too MuchTransparency builds trust.  TMI overwhelms.  Can leaders share too much?

I received this note from a Let’s Grow Leaders subscriber:

“The organization I work for prides itself on transparency – I too believe this is very important – however, there are some times when we try to be transparent when the information actually discourages the receiving party unnecessarily. I have been promoting transparency when there is good to be had – and not a way of removing guilt.”

So I open the conversation to the  LGL community. When do leaders share too much?

4 Ways Leaders Share Too Much 

1.  Sharing angst

Share vision.  Share rationale.  Share decision-making processes.  Don’t share angst.  Sharing too much may make you feel better, but stress multiplies as it rolls down hill.  Better to buffer.  Teach political savvy, but spare them from turmoil and distracting B.S.

2.  Feedback overload

Your team wants straight-talk and deserves to know where they stand.  Pace yourself.   No one can grow when watered with a feedback firehose.  Position feedback so that it can be heard and acted on at a reasonable pace.

3.  Admitting every flaw

Don’t feel compelled to expose every imperfection.  If guests compliment me on my home at a party, there’s no need to admit I shoved all the toys into a big pile in the basement.  ”Thank you” works just find.  Teach your team to position their work in a positive manner, and  address significant concerns head on.  It’s okay to positively position your work.

4.  Group therapy

You want to show up as a real human being.  Being vulnerable helps others to share.   But, don’t over do it.  Over sharing distracts from the vision and the work at hand.   Maintain an appropriate balance.

What would you add?  When do leaders share too much?

More on the Transparency Debate

Frontline Festival:  Trust and Transparency Edition (A Curation of Posts)
The Transparency Debate:  How Much Should Leaders Share
The Debate Continues:  4 Reasons For More Transparency
Chaos Curtailed: When to Shield Your Team
Delivering Tough Messages Effectively  (A Let’s Grow Leaders Video)
Lousy Leaders Suck at Difficult Conversations (Dan Rockwell)

30 responses to TMI: Leaders Who Share Too Much

  1. The one area which makes me extremely uncomfortable are those moments when coworkers begin downloading a lot a personal information. While I appreciate there trust in sharing it, the workplace is not the desired location and it damages the relationship…in my opinion.

  2. I’ve worked with people that shared with their team that they were interviewing for a new position within the org… and they didn’t get it. It was hard for them to understand why they wanted to leave and that they were genuinely excited about staying too.

  3. Karin- I agree with you analysis and diagnosis, but I would also add sharing experiences whether successful or not.

    A metaphor: a transparent solar collector has an acceptable efficiency. Stacking of find sand on its surface reduces its efficiency by 30%.

    Likewise; we need to keep our transparent surface clean of the dusty doubts by circulating information and exchange of experiences.

    Am I off the mark?

    • Sorry- I meant fine sand and not find sand

      • Ali, I am a HUGE believer in sharing of experiences and transparency. As you know, I’ve written much on that topic. I also felt encouraged by a reader to examine the other side… just like any leadership compentency or approach… to much can be destructive. As I thought about it, there were a number or important examples.

        I am hopeful this topic will bring on inspiring conversation…. it’s a tough one… where’s the best place to draw the line?

  4. Karin- you remind me of my presentation The Iceberg of Opposites.

    http://www.slideshare.net/hudali15/the-iceberg-of-opposites

    We have always to strike a balance between opposites and never go to one extreme. For example, in the USA you measure the Happiness Index. Up to 96% productivity increases, but beyond that the opposite takes place. Likewise, no juice will come out of 1/2 a lemon unless we squeeze it. Humans need some stress and squeezing. Studies show that up to 15% it is sweet stress, but beyond that it fires back.

    The complexity of humans make sometimes small change result in drastic changes (The Butterfly Effect). So, the only way to find the sweet spot between trust and no trust is by trial and error. This includes observing people and how they act as you suggested.
    This is a hugely complex issue and I doubt that we have a simple answer to it.

    • Ali, awesome. Love your presentations. Thanks so much for sharing.

      • Just an idea crossed my mind while reading the great comments above. We are here to exchange comments and in doing so are exercising what Karin noted in her first response to me above by saying “I am hopeful this topic will bring on inspiring conversation…. it’s a tough one… where’s the best place to draw the line?”.
        We don’t know each other in person, but still we are exchanging views transparently. Is it based on virtual trust?
        I guess that feeling positively encourages open dialogues. Are we putting a limit on what we say when writing comments? We are all customers to each other and then will our behavior change when we talk to other customers? Why would we do it?
        I am just asking.

  5. The only thing I can add is personal info that doesn’t relate to the topic of the day.

    I believe showing your flaws is a good thing. It makes the leader vulnerable.

    Think before you speak.

    Use common sense.

    Ask if what you’re going to share adds value. Then, listen to your intuition.

  6. I’ve have gotten into trouble by sharing ideas about future development before I thought them through. The team can start thinking its a done deal when it was only a fleeting thought that I later trashed. Great way to make the team anxious.

  7. I think the difference may be with transparency within your team vs your customer. Your team needs to know where you stand and benefits from seeing and hearing your vulnerability. You need to be straightforward and honest with your customer without too much behind the scenes detail. Sharing too much information with a client may result undue angst. It’s our job to get our act together as a team to provide the best product for the people we serve.

  8. You make several interesting – and important – points in this blog. The culture of transparency can be a great thing – building trust and organizational cohesion.

    But business, as they say, is business. And the push for transparency can lead to a blurring of the lines between personal and professional. That’s going to make a significant proportion of the workforce really uncomfortable – and ultimately decrease productivity.

    In addition, you make a great point that leaders need to share vision – not angst. While we don’t expect our leaders to be superhuman, to lead, there are times when leaders need to keep personal doubts, well, personal…

    Thanks again for the great ideas – I will share with my network.

    • JM, really glad to have you join the conversation. You raise a really important point about comfort level and productivity. Hope to see you back soon.

      • Many thanks! As a professional resume writer and career coach – with a practice focused on IT leaders – these are indeed important points. Because I think the amount of transparency that would be effective and comfortable for a marketing or sales organization, for example, would be very different than the amount that would help motivate highly technical engineering professionals. As in all things in life, balance is critical…

  9. I believe in transparency. I believe in sharing. BUT I am also a big component of sharing is a two way street.

    Check in and see where others are, see what they need. See what they want, see what they are seeking…

    Sometimes the information you want to share is not the information they want to hear.

    A leader listens and than speaks, a leader guides and than communicates.

    Lolly

    • Those are great points! Sharing can be a positive, relationship building exercise. But it can also – at its worst – be a somewhat narcissistic exercise. A leader needs to be aware of what his / her teams needs, to be able to lead in the right direction, and in the most effective manner…

    • Lolly, yes! You raise such an important point of reciprocity. It can be too much when it goes only one way

  10. I literally read your post and this piece from HBR one after the other. Do you think there’s a contradiction?

    Too much vs. not enough… seems a fine line.
    http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/08/good-leaders-get-emotional/

    • Deb, what a perfect article to add to the mix. I agree, it’s a REALLY fine line…. and most of the other writing I’ve done on the topic has been in favor of more transparency…. but I do think it’s a matter of degree, situation, relationships and timing, which is why this reader’s comment inspired this post. Loved the perspective in the HBR article…..

      I have seen emotion go both ways. Sharing of emotions can create amazing connection. When coming from positions of power it can also be really intimidating.

      Where do you come out on all this?

      • I agree it’s a fine line and I tend be a little less emotional than others as a person in general. Most of the time I try to listen first and then convey emotion in more private venues. On the other hand, I was a member of our community long before I became a leader and most folks know me well. I truly believe my school is a family so emotion is part of the culture. I have seen every member of our leadership convey emotion at one point or another, especially when we lose members of our family or grow frustrated when things do not go well. The key for me is figuring out which frustrations and disappointments are mine to own and which belong to others. In this way the emotion I convey is more appropriate from personal in some cases to supportive in others.

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