Should You Reveal Your Secret at Work?

You want to show up authentic, but then again not every environment is safe. If you tell your secret, will they admire your courage? Will it bring you closer to your boss and others? Or. Will they judge you? Will doors open or close as a result of your authenticity? Bill Treasurer, author of Leaders Open Doors, shares a powerful story of how revealing a deep secret opened the doors to remarkable opportunity. I admire his courage. At the same time, I can’t help but consider how his story would play out in other contexts with other important leaders I know. I suspect the outcome would be different.

Risky Reveals

A risky reveal can be admitting something from your past, in Bill’s case, he was recovering from a drinking problem. Or perhaps it’s a hidden lifestyle choice. If you’re wrestling with a potentially risky reveal, you know. When Bill shared his secret with his boss at Accenture, it didn’t appear to go well.

Although I didn’t expect my boss to pat me on my shoulder and say, “Good for you; you’re a drunk!” I expected more of a reaction than I got. After I told him that I was in recovery, my boss looked at me quizzically and muttered, “I see.”

As the story plays out, his boss was chairman of the board of directors of a non-profit council on substance abuse. A few weeks after the initial conversation, he gave Bill an opportunity to lead a huge project with that agency, with his full support. That project led to more and grew his career.

To Reveal or Not Reveal?

I asked Bill, “How do you decide?”

  1. Check your motives: Consider why you want this person to know. If you’re looking for sympathy or shock factor, don’t do it. Perhaps you feel it will bring you closer and enhance the relationship, that may be valid reason.
  2. Time it right: Resist the spontaneous spill. Even if the exact moment you chose to disclose feels spontaneous, it’s best to have carefully weighed the pros and cons before hand.
  3. Consider their track record: How have they handled sensitive information in the past? What’s their track record. If you don’t know, be careful.
  4. Allow time to process: Don’t expect an immediate reaction. Your news may be shocking at first, your boss may need time to think before offering a useful response.
  5. Consider outcomes: Think about the potential opportunities and drawbacks of the risky reveal.

If you’re interested in the topic of Trust and Transparency, stop back on Friday for the Frontline Festival when thought leaders around the world sharing their best posts on the topic. In fact, why not just enter your email address below, and never miss a post. Join the LGL community and conversation.

Have you been on either end of a risky reveal?

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. I’ve been on the receiving end of one.

    I can’t share the details but it involved a serious violation of the law from years back on one of our first employees at a previous company. We were small and didn’t do background checks. We would not have hired him had we known. But, we were already close and he was a great team member, so we chose to do nothing with the information.

    I will tell you though that it was one of the most shocking moments of my life.

    • Thanks for the comment Matt. My guess is that we all have secrets. The question is whether it ever makes sense to reveal to bosses or coworkers. It took me 3 years to muster the courage to tell my boss. I just felt that he should know about what I was working on in my life, and why it mattered. Plus he was (and remains) a person of deep integrity. He held my secret in confidence, but found a way to turn it into an opportunity for me.

    • It did. He was still with us when I left the first time in 2008 and we remain close friends to this day.

      And he ended up getting his record expunged about two years ago, so he has a clean record now.

  2. Karin, I love your point on factors to consider before revealing a secret and in particular is checking one’s motive to do that.
    Your lovely post reminded me with a personal story that you may use if of relevance to you. One day I told my grandmother that I had a secret to reveal to her on condition that she would not tell anybody about it. She did. I revealed my secret to her. To my surprise she said that she was going to tell everybody about it. I asked how? She replied “if you can’t keep your secret to yourself then why I should keep it for you?”
    That was a great lesson later on to keep secrets of my clients. Your post gives me a second choice: reveal after verifying it is right.

    Thanks, Karin, my teacher.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Ali. Grandmothers are wise people, aren’t they? Mine was one of the finest people I ever met, and I miss her often.

      Keeping client confidences are important. Doing so is how one becomes a “trusted confident” – which is one of the highest and most noble goals of consulting.

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