Loyalty is important to us. When we perceive someone to be loyal, we believe they have our best interests at heart, and we decide to trust them. Where we are sometimes confused lies in the difference between what is in their hearts and what they can control.
I have had great relationships with my bosses. I respected them and even felt affection for some as people and friends. But they also had a role to play. In certain situations they had to put other interests first. That’s business, and we’ve all come to understand these priorities, especially when they are explained or in plain sight.
But when our bosses make decisions we don’t understand, what we often fail to see are the limits on their own autonomy of action. I’m sure they have similar relationships with their bosses; respect and friendship coupled with a realistic expectation of when they can advance certain interests, and when those interests will take a backseat to other constraints beyond their control.
Sometimes this means they withhold information that can be helpful. Sometimes it means letting us believe things that they know to be different. Sometimes it even means letting us work for weeks or months on programs that are unlikely to see the light of day.
This is a well-known dysfunction in large organizations, but it also appears in endeavors of any size in which competition or compliance require confidentiality. It can be a great challenge to draw the line between transparency and protecting the legitimate interests of an organization. Missteps can have real consequences for many people no matter which way you turn as a leader.
Because of these challenges, I urge you to qualify your trust and your loyalty to include only what is realistic for the autonomy and authority of the leader in question. Temper that with looking at the emerging needs of the business. Anything else is unrealistic and puts you at risk of being blindsided, rather than owning your own career and being prepared for inevitable changes.
Walking around paranoid and constantly worried about who to trust will distract you from doing great work and quite literally make you ill. If your “great work” is that of changing cultures, then you might be in the perfect place. But if you can’t wrap your mind and emotions around the culture as it exists, you won’t be able to do great work, so you need to go somewhere you can.
Jason starts his Hidden Leader Road Trip soon. Go to JasonMartinPresents.com to learn more and follow his journey. How leaders balance transparency and confidentiality is one of many themes he’ll be exploring with these Hidden Leaders.