Loose Lips Larry – why keeping confidences is the close friend of integrity and trust


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.


  1. aquariancore on February 19, 2014 at 4:03 am

    Confidentiality should be a staple of leadership but from experience it isn’t always the rule.

  2. Kristin Magette on January 29, 2014 at 3:52 am

    Great post! Everyone says they want to be trusted, but many aren’t willing to do the work. Maintaining confidentiality takes effort, humility and intention, but it is Step One in building a reputation as someone who can be trusted.

    • The Leader's Digest on January 29, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      Great point Kristin – I agree, like all effective leadership attributes building a trustworthy reputation takes commitment and work. Nice to hear from you. Cheers, Suzi

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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