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Why Leaders Give Away Power through Over-Disclosure

Your superstar VP of Sales, best-friend, confidant can easily become a low-performer that you’ll have to exit later this year. (Be careful what you share along the way.)

Disclosing personal affairs, discussing controversial topics, and complaining with subordinates may offer short-term relief, but over-disclosure with these groups will ultimately harm the company and your personal reputation. It’s important for all leaders to be mindful of the information they share and with whom they share it. Otherwise, leaders will ultimately overpay during employee exits, lawsuits, and often with their reputation. 

Why founders give away power

Founders and leaders face immense pressure as they navigate building a successful company. They shoulder all of the weight of securing funding, hiring and managing a team, and competing in a constantly evolving market. This leads to feeling stressed, exposed, and alone with their thoughts and decisions. They desire thought partnership in high-pressure moments, which begs the question: “Will they rely on trusted advisors or over-disclose sensitive information to the wrong people in pursuit of validation?” 

Many of the decisions that lead founders to over-disclose to inappropriate parties is born out of anxiety, lack of self-awareness, and the failure to have dedicated professional mentors. The answers to below questions are often the motivation for why founders unfortunately choose familiar faces over vetted advisors. 

Can the person with whom you are sharing your thoughts later use this information against you?

Are you looking for critical feedback or are you recruiting an accomplice? 

Are you prepared to hear that you may be wrong or are you looking for a yes-man? 

Are you in need of a friend or counsel from a trusted advisor?

Use trusted advisors, not those who can later hurt you

Leaders seek advice and counsel for various reasons, including a lack of confidence in their decision-making abilities, pressure to succeed, fear of failure, and a desire to maintain control over the company. While these motivations are reasonable, leaders in their vulnerable states may end up confiding in the wrong people or recruiting accomplices to align with in order to support their decisions. It’s important for founders to be mindful of who they confide in and seek out professional advisors who can provide guidance and support.

Using colleagues and friends as therapists.

Just like everyone else, leaders deal with personal challenges, such as relationship or health issues, and often turn to coworkers or friends for emotional support. This type of interaction is unhealthy for effective business environments. This level of oversharing can damage the founder’s reputation and lead to a loss of respect from those around them further harming their leadership effectiveness or worse, later embarrass the founder.

Also, leaders may be tempted to vent about disputes with employees or colleagues. They may confide in coworkers or friends about conflicts or disagreements within the company. But, these types of discussions will harm morale and create an environment of distrust within the team and greater company.

Simple Ways Founders Can Preserve Power

Founders can preserve their power and maximize their impact by implementing a few simple changes.

Hire trusted advisors with whom you can disclose and discuss unpopular ideas without the risk of subsequent exposure. Advisors are often more honest and are less inclined to exploit you because of the nature of their relationship with the business and you as a leader. They also exist in a single advisory role capacity, so risk of a dual relationship is much less than that of a subordinate or teammate. 

Self-awareness is a superpower for founders, allowing them to dive deep into their emotions, motivations, triggers, and thought processes. Identifying the moments where we are inclined to over-disclose and let our emotions best us will drastically reduce the likelihood of creating scenarios you will regret later. Know your triggers and learn your cyclical maladaptive patterns of engaging in this type of behavior. 

Live a compartmentalized life by keeping different aspects of life separate. Leaders should create mental or physical barriers between their professional role and personal life. By creating clear boundaries between different areas, leaders can reduce the risk of disclosure and gossip. By keeping different aspects of life separated, leaders also create a better balance between work, personal relationships, and other activities. This leads to greater overall satisfaction and fulfillment. Through compartmentalization, leaders will maintain greater privacy and control over different areas of their life, thus mitigating the risk of damaging personal and company reputations.

Jason Halbert

Jason Halbert