How to Break the Conspiracy of Silence


The organization was under scrutiny from regulators and the media. That’s a big deal when you have over 15,000 employees. The conspiracy of silence had come home to roost.

To make matters worse, a long-term culture of, “go along to get along,” oozed from offices at every location.

It’s sad when employees of large organizations adopt a, “don’t rock the boat” approach to their work. Unresolved issues grow like boils until someone lances them.

When you don’t dig into your own issues, someone else will.

The leader told his team:

  1. I’ll own every issue you bring to me before it goes public.

  2. If I get blindsided by an issue you knew about, but didn’t tell me, you’re fired.

In a culture of fear, make people afraid to be silent.

Courageous leaders open closets and turn on lights. Pretending things are OK when they aren’t, expresses misguided self-preservation. Saving face is the path to average.

Six keys to opening closets:

  1. Acknowledge that problems fester and grow in the dark.
  2. Don’t soften the brutal facts. Solutions don’t begin until problems are named, described, owned, and confronted.
  3. Follow through. If you say you’re going to own it, but your throw people under the bus, you’re done.
  4. Dig at scabs with optimism. There’s no place for long-term pity parties at the top.
  5. Honor and reward honesty.
  6. Punish, reform, or remove go-along types.

Leaders who sweep issues under the carpet are doomed to lead stagnant, ineffective, inefficient organizations.

Ignored problems grow until they can’t be ignored.

Go to Facebook and add your response to: “Reasons organizations cover up problems include _______.”

How can leaders get to the bottom of tough issues when people are afraid to bring them up?