Keeping secrets from your competition makes sense. Keeping secrets from your employees makes for some drama. And that’s not good at all.

As a leader you need to be open about what you are doing. With few exceptions, the time for secrets is over. Forgot the passive aggressive manipulation, forget playing Jack off of Jill, forget your plans for total world domination…you have a business to run and all of that, ALL of it, simply slows down your progress. Leaders who play a game of “I have a secret” lead their people into trouble. Trying to do things in secret really explodes in your face once people find out what you are doing…and they will.

Why is transparency so important for a leader? Well, first of all, you need to provide people a common focus. Your employees may go off in completely different directions without some common goals, so setting your goals and keeping them to yourself is not going to help. I had a boss once who told me, “I do not see why people want plans to be written down…I already know in my head what it is I want to do.” Yeah, that is not helping the rest of us, because we have not been to mind-reading class yet. If you want your employees working together (and you DO), then they need the same information, and keeping plans and issues to yourself is not going to help.

While it is true that everybody likes surprises, it is also true that nobody likes surprises. What I mean here is that everyone (well, except for grumpy people) likes opening a present on their birthday, but nobody likes opening a budget and seeing their resources got cut because of some priority they never heard of. People like to know what’s going on and if they feel they are being cut out of things they are going to resent it professionally and personally. In a government office where I worked a few years ago, my boss had someone working on a wiki-based information sharing system while another group was working on integrating databases from a couple different agencies to try to achieve a similar result. But the wiki-work was being done in secret, even though the two efforts could have complemented each other, and because some good effort was divided, and everybody got mad when the “secret” project was revealed in the budget meetings, neither project ended up going anywhere. A bunch of drama in the workplace does not help, and that is exactly what you get from talented employees who spend their time coming up with good ideas and hate seeing them wasted.

Yes, in many businesses you face inter-office politics, and that is usually the justification for a lack of transparency. But the impact that different groups in your organization will have on each other should lead to more transparency, not less. Chances are you need to get buy-in from other divisions to encourage cooperation and reduce friction in budget plans and such. Maybe your employees’ work is only going to matter if it is done together with others, and so you need cooperation rather than competition. Try to overcome the problem of politics rather than feeding it.

Having said all of this, there ARE some things you need to keep quiet. Personnel matters, for instance…not everyone needs to know who is making how much money or which employee has only 3 weeks to show some improvement before being let go (THAT employee needs to know, but you should not broadcast it to everyone). Private matters and problems at home should not be advertised…if you know one of your folks is having trouble at home and it is going to affect their work, find another way to explain that impact in the office without giving all the private details of your employee’s life. Remember, “transparency” is not the same as “feeding the gossip machine.”

If the reason you limit transparency in the office is because you don’t trust your employees — maybe you are concerned they will leave for a competitor, or perhaps use the information to take your job and get ahead — that is a sign of a bigger problem. Why do you have people working for you whom you do not trust? If you really and truly don’t trust your employees and peers, then the best thing to do is to go elsewhere, because this is a company destined for BIG problems.