When you can’t tell them

One reason you slip into corporate waffle is because you feel like you are expected to say something when you can’t. You don’t want to be evasive but, it's complicated.

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Have you ever caught yourself doing waffly corporate speak? Maybe something like this..

“As we strategically pivot to generate greater integration there may be, in the fullness of time, important adaptations that will need to be made to ensure future viability going forward.”

Why do leaders talk like this? Is it some kind of brain snap or is there something deeper going on?

You are expected to say something but you can’t

One reason you slip into corporate waffle is because you feel like you are expected to say something when you can’t. You don’t want to be evasive but, it’s complicated. You know important stuff that you are not allowed to share. It may be important stuff that will have a big impact on people you work with.

Recent news headlines about leadership and organisational failures have heightened the importance of authenticity and openness. If a leader comes across as a bit clunky in an interview, we feel a creeping sense of doubt and distrust of them. This feeling really ramps up when they give complicated, long-winded answers to questions. One of our pet hates is when a political leader doesn’t directly answer a question. We start to wonder what they are hiding.

Authenticity and openness build trust

These same dynamics are at play inside organisations as well. Authenticity and openness are important to building trust. A lot of the time this is fine. You can brief your team about the business strategy, share financial and operational updates. You can facilitate conversations where people can question and explore what this all means for their work. You can share your ideas and even your worries. You will try to give feedback and be open to feedback from others on how you can improve.

As you move into more senior leadership roles it gets complicated. You are exposed to much broader and longer term information. Much of this is not yet at the stage of final decision. Often a wide range of possibilities are under discussion. But you still have working relationships with people whose future you hold in your hands. And you can’t tell them everything. Often you can’t tell them anything.

Authentically withholding information

So how do you authentically and openly withhold information? Does that even make sense? What do you do when people ask you direct questions about what’s going on? 

Here are some ideas:

  • Own the fact that you will know more than you can tell. This is the reality of leadership roles. Which doesn’t mean you are on a power trip or playing a political game. But you will have to find your own peace with this part of your leadership role. Because you are now involved in planning and shaping the future you will quite often know more than you can tell.
  • Share as much as you can most of the time. If people’s main experience of you is that you do share a lot of information, they are more likely to accept that sometimes you can’t. As much as you can, make your default setting to communicate as much of the big and small picture as you can.
  • Check your assumptions about what you can and can’t share. Your own fears and anxieties can cut in and lead you to self-censor more than you actually need to. Trust is two way and sometimes you can under-estimate your team’s willingness and ability to rise to the occasion and keep information confidential.

When you can’t tell people stuff, be authentic and open about it. Don’t try a corporate smoke screen. Tell people that you know more but that you are not willing to share it at the moment.

Being Leaders offers a leadership program that provides the practical and helpful tools to effectively make the transition into a leader-of-leaders role. With tailored workshops, self-reflection tools and leadership coaching, the program will equip you with new practices that enable you to succeed in bigger leadership roles.

Contact Being Leaders to find out more.

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