What's a good balance between appropriate transparency and uncomfortable oversharing? I've often wondered this, especially after someone (sometimes me) shares a deep story about herself that leaves everyone wondering what to do with it.
No one likes a plastic person who seems like she is on stage delivering lines—a leader who shares good ideas, but never lets you see her soft underbelly of insecurity and struggle. I've sat in an audience or across the table from someone, just like you have, and thought, I wonder what he is really like, what he really thinks. I wonder what keeps her up at night.
People will admire your strengths as a leader, but they will resonate with your weaknesses. We know people appreciate authenticity that they can learn from, not pretense that builds a façade. People appreciate honest admissions of the times when you made a dumb decision, when you didn't know what to do next, or when you realized you were too harsh or judgmental—and what you learned from those situations. But what about the bigger issues like going through burnout, times of deep insecurity, or a crisis of faith? As a leader, should you share these difficult experiences with those you lead, or should you keep it to yourself? How much should you share, and when should you share it?
These are questions I've struggled with. I've erred on the side of being the plastic professional who tries to hide her mistakes and keep her fears to herself. I've also had that awful moment after sharing something deep that has left others wondering, hmm, I wonder why she shared that. It's a moment we all want to avoid, and I've learned to ask myself four questions to help me determine whether or not it's time to share a deep experience with others.1