TMI: Leaders Who Share Too Much

TMI: Leaders Who Share Too Much

Transparency 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 pare 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?
Filed Under:   Authenticity & Transparency, Communication
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

Dave Bratcher   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

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.

letsgrowleaders   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

Dave, thanks for sharing. It’s always a balancing act. My view… the amount of download must be appropriate for the level of relationship that’s been established.

Alli Polin   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

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.

letsgrowleaders   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

Alli, what a powerful example. Thanks so much.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

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?

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

Sorry- I meant fine sand and not find sand

letsgrowleaders   |   30 September 2013   |  

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?

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

Karin- you remind me of my presentation 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.

letsgrowleaders   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

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

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   30 September 2013   |  

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.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   30 September 2013   |  

Karin- I did a great experiment in which I started a slideshare presentation and then invited contributors to add slides as inspired by the seeding slides. So many ideas emerged. The 101 slide presentation is a real manifest of how we influence each other and we affect and get affected by each other. This presentation may uncover some of the probing questions you made in your post.

Steve Borek   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

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.

letsgrowleaders   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

Steve, agreed… your intuition has a lot to do with it… slowing down enought to cue in is key.

Jim Ryan   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

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.

letsgrowleaders   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

Jim…. me too… been there, made that mistake… It’s dangerous to get the team excited too early. That works in families too ;-)

Jill   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

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.

letsgrowleaders   |   30 September 2013   |   Reply

Jill, fantastic to have you expanding the LGL conversation. Such an important angle. Agree 100%. Namaste.

JM Auron   |   01 October 2013   |   Reply

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.

letsgrowleaders   |   01 October 2013   |   Reply

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.

JM Auron   |   01 October 2013   |  

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…

Lolly Daskal   |   01 October 2013   |   Reply

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.


JM Auron   |   01 October 2013   |   Reply

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…

letsgrowleaders   |   01 October 2013   |  

JM, agreed…. so much of it comes down to intention.

JM Auron   |   01 October 2013   |  

Intention – and a sense of appropriateness. There has been a cultural shift to openness – and that’s a great thing. But leaders – and team members, for that matter – have to have a sense of when and what to share…

letsgrowleaders   |   01 October 2013   |   Reply

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

Deb Costello   |   01 October 2013   |   Reply

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.

letsgrowleaders   |   01 October 2013   |   Reply

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?

Deb Costello   |   01 October 2013   |  

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.

letsgrowleaders   |   01 October 2013   |  

Deb, so beautiful. Love this…. “The key for me is figuring out which frustrations and disappointments are mine to own and which belong to others.” Me too.