What’s the Secret?

Actually, it shouldn’t be a secret – it should be openly and regularly shared. It should be one of the most important things that’s shared, but the reality is often otherwise. The “it” is what you think about a team member and their performance, especially if that team member reports to you. You would think that this would be an obvious element of communication, but it’s not. There are often many secrets kept by leaders (from their team members) and by team members (from each other). And this is a failure of leadership.

Let me say it even more clearly – if your team members do not know precisely what you think about them and their performance, then you are failing as a leader. Leaders don’t keep secrets from their team members, especially when it comes to their performance.

This seems so simple and logical – let people know what you think about them and their performance – and yet it’s not often the norm with many leaders and managers. In fact, the same dynamic of keeping secrets is common among team members, where we fail to share what we think about each other (while our actions speak volumes). Instead of letting people know, we hold back and keep secrets, which keeps us and our teams from achieving all that we are capable of.

After all, how can you expect to engage and execute at the top of your game when there are secrets being kept among each other, especially when those secrets directly relate to people’s performance and working relationships? Here’s one of the most important elements of this dynamic – the secrets that are kept are not just about shortcomings in performance, but also about the ways that the team member is excelling. In other words, we fail to tell others the ways they can improve andthe ways that they are brilliant.

I’ve occasionally facilitated the following exercise with a team or organization, but rarely have I found a team or organization with a strong enough foundation of trust to make it a reality. Here’s the concept:

  • Each person writes down every thought they have about each team member, with each brief word or thought put on a separate post-it note. 
  • Each person then puts the post-it notes on the person that each note relates to—but with a twist. If they are confident that they have already shared the thought with the person, they put the post-it note on that person’s front. However, if they are not fully confident that they have already shared the thought with the person, they put the post-it note on the person’s back.

It’s an eye-opening exercise in team transparency, trust and growth, and it opens the door to a whole other level of team engagement, personal development and improvement.  And this is the role of leaders and leadership.

A leader I work with recently said this about his mission:

“A leader’s mission is to teach others and get them to where you are (or better) so they can do your job.” Rick Lantz, Beaver Excavating

This simple statement summarizes your role and responsibility as a leader, and this cannot happen unless and until you are willing to fully and openly share your thoughts with your team members. The growth that comes from this sharing also applies just as much among team members, but none of this growth can happen when we keep secrets.

Whether you’re a leader with a  team or you’re one of the many leaders amongst team members, it’s vital that you consistently share what you see in each other. For each team member, this includes clearly telling them what you think about them and their performance, what you would like to see improved, and what you would like them to teach others (the areas where they excel). This is vital work – game-changing work – and it cannot happen when we keep secrets. If you’re a leader, my challenging question to you is simple: What’s the secret?

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