If good leadership was a house, ethics, honesty and integrity would be the first bricks laid in the foundation.

Sure, you can build a house without them, but it wouldn’t be a sound one – think leaky building syndrome if you’re a Kiwi reader.

You can be a ‘successful’ leader without them – heck, you can even reach the top (see here for some high profile unethical leaders in recent history). But you sure as eggs won’t be a ‘good’ one.

Think about someone you know who has bucket loads of integrity, is trustworthy and honest. I bet you also rate their ability to keep confidences highly too, am I right?

Keeping confidences and trust go hand in hand.

Early on in my career I was unaware of the importance of keeping confidences in my professional life. 

As a new manager, I learned (the hard way), that the ability to keep confidential information confidential is pretty freaking important.

And in leadership coaching it’s akin to the first commandment.

Here are 6 considerations to be aware of in order to avoid a reputation around the office water cooler as Loose Lips Larry:

1. Ask up front, “Is this confidential?” This brings awareness for both of you as to the rules of the conversation you’re about to have.

2. If in doubt, keep it to yourself. Sometimes, it’s not stated or obvious if its confidential.  Say nothing. At least until you have checked it out with the person in question.

3. If the shoe is on the other foot and you are the one confiding in someone else, don’t assume just ‘cos you think what you’re saying is confidential, that they are on the same page. Be explicit if you want them to remain schtum.

4. Keep personal information personal. This includes whether Mary in accounts is having marriage troubles at home, John in sales has been to the doctor for a ‘weird’ lump or that Tommy down on level three got a bit carried away at the Eminem concert on Saturday.

5. Be aware upfront what you are committing to keep personal. Ask yourself, “is this to do with performance? Legal issues? Ethics? Safety?” These areas cannot be kept confidential.  If in doubt about the conversation, say “Before you tell me, I can’t promise confidentiality on matters like performance, ethics or legal matters. Don’t put me in that position, bro!”

6. Look at your ‘why’. If you are someone who loves a bit of a gossip and this area might be a risk for you, examine why you should keep confidences.

What are the benefits to me of keeping confidences?
What are the potential consequences of not doing so?
What drives me to gossip?
What do I get out of it?
In what situations am I most likely to risk it?
What need am I trying to fulfill by playing ‘Chinese Whispers’.

Remind yourself of the answers to these questions when you are tempted.

Loose Lips Larry might be fun to be around, but as far as trust, credibility and respect are concerned, he ain’t even on the scale.