Can You Keep A Secret? (How to save your company and yourself)

Remember the last time you asked someone: “Can you keep a secret?” You might have been burning to divulge something you held in confidence about yourself or someone else.

In a business context, secrets have several distinctions:  

Dragons & Enemies  

Dragons – external to ourselves – are about someone or something else. You may have learned about a behavior or action that involves the organization, a boss, a vendor or a customer. If the secret is second or third-hand, it may not even be true. You don’t own this secret, and you may or may not have the right to disclose it.

Enemies Within – internal weaknesses or shortcomings – are aspects of you that you’ve kept hidden from the organization. They might be behaviors, actions or attitudes that you’ve held on to for reasons only you know. You own this secret but letting it go comes with consequences.

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Secrets Are Harmful or Harmless

Harmful Secrets: Harmful secrets typically involve information that you don’t have the right or authority to disclose, like the launch of a new service or the secret sauce to your company’s product. You don’t own this secret and you don’t have the authority to disclose it.

You might also have knowledge that is potentially harmful to a person within the circle of the organization or the organization itself. It might be innocuous like an unannounced promotion that could have a ramifications on the organization. You don’t own this secret either and disclosing it will have consequences.

Or, it could be about an immoral or illegal behavior, like someone stealing or violating the oath of the organization. You may have an obligation to tell this secret, but handling it with consideration is of the utmost importance.

Harmless Secrets: These secrets can range from gossip about an employee, a surprise retirement party, how an employee was rated on a review or someone’s  intention to leave the company. Disclosing this type of secret might not cause irreparable damage but it could have ramifications.

When it’s about you, your attitudes about or behaviors with the organization, you own this secret, and you have the choice to disclose it or not. Some secrets are worth keeping; there are always grey shades.

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Telling A Harmless Secret About Someone Else

Regardless, when you ask someone if they can keep a secret, there’s always a consequence.

Burden: Now the person you told the secret to has the burden of keeping the secret. After all, you just asked them to keep it.

Betrayal: When the secret is not about you and it was or should have been held in confidence, you just betrayed whoever told  you, if were asked to keep the secret.

Lack of Trust: How can the person you disclosed it to now trust you to keep a new secret? You have just revealed that you can’t always keep one.

Disappointment: A harmless secret is often not worth telling. The person who hears it might not even care, and they might be disappointed in the value of the secret. You might even have disappointment in yourself due to your lack of restraint.

Effective Leaders never reveal a harmless secret about someone else. They never ask “Can you keep a secret?”  They keep it in confidence and never give reason for a burden, betrayal, lack of trust or disappointment. These expose Enemies Within.

Letting go of a harmless secret can have an impact on your company or yourself. Giving them away can often reflect badly on your company and can, over time, have negative consequences to it or to you.  Keeping a secret can save the company’s integrity from damage and save your own.

So, the next time you ask someone “Can you keep a secret?” whatever their response, consider aligning your Enemies Within and say “So, can I.”

Go Slay Dragons!

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