The Most Important Decision Leaders Make

Today’s post comes by way of request. A few of them, actually.

It’s a bit of information plus a lot of warning.

I begin with a few moments from some recent posts. See if you notice a theme.

  • Don’t talk trash about your organization to others, with the exception of a few, trusted people.
  • Don’t whine, complain or let off steam to others, with the exception of a few, trusted people.
  • Don’t share your fears, vulnerabilities or insecurities with others, with the exception of a few, trusted people.

Did you catch it?

The big question I’ve gotten, of course, is just how in the heck to identify those few, trusted people? How can you tell who will really hold your most confidential information and emotions close?

After all, we come in contact with people everyday…people who are nice, people who seem to want the best for us, people who strike us as consummate professionals.

It can become all too easy to let lots of people in, to trust that they will hold everything we say as sacred. Sometimes we let them in without thinking about it at all.


Notice the title of this post. This is a decision. Some might say it’s the most important one you will make.


Because if you just let anyone in, you are setting yourself up.

There is no reason to risk your reputation – and that’s what you’re doing – allowing just anyone to see you at your most vulnerable, your most negative, your most whiny.

Because that same person may turn around and tell everyone else how vulnerable, negative and whiny you are.

Which will get you a pretty nasty reputation…which means you won’t be as successful…because others simply won’t trust you or like you as much.

And they’ll want to steer clear.

So make your decision about who you share your least attractive moments with carefully.

And consider the following qualities when doing so.

Trusted Circle Quality #1:

 People who don’t trash talk or whine either

The best guarantee that someone will talk about you and your confidential information all over town is that they do it to others.

I met a woman for the first time several months ago. As we sat down to lunch I brought up a mutual colleague. Her very next sentence? “Oh yeah, I know her…she’s a total blow hard.”

I took note, chose my words carefully the rest of the meal, and never met with her again.

Trusted Circle Quality #2:

 People who don’t take your stories as an excuse to tell their own

Healthy competition is all well and good, but you don’t want to feel like you’re competing with those in your sacred circle. This isn’t a time for one-upping. This is a time to share true successes, fears and challenges. This is a time to let others know when you’ve come up short so that they can compassionately and honesty tell you the role you might have played in it, all while assuring you that you are still a good person.

Someone who uses your words to focus on themselves illustrates a constant need to be the center of attention. Which means they might do – or tell – anything to get there. Even stuff about you.

Trusted Circle Quality #3:

 People who are genuinely excited when you have a win

People in your circle need to be your biggest champions. They are the people who want you to succeed for no other reason than the fact that they care about you.

It’s a sign of insecurity when people hear about a success and start finding the negatives or comparing your wins with their own. And insecurity is not a quality of someone you want in your circle.

Some things to keep in mind…

Don’t bring someone in too fast

These qualities take some time to figure out. You need time to see the patterns, to witness how they handle their own stuff, how they talk about others, how they follow up with you.

And, frankly, it doesn’t hurt to give it enough time to get a sense of their reputation around town. Even if you don’t witness it firsthand, if you hear rumblings that your new friend is gossiping or in battle with others, that might be all you need to know.

Just because it feels like people should be in your circle doesn’t make them right

I had a lot in common with a co-worker at my last organization. We were both from New York. We both laughed at the same jokes. We both had the same kind of passion and drive. People began to joke that we were like twins. It seemed obvious she’d be in my circle. But there was one big difference between us. She talked a lot of trash. Not only did I keep her from a circle membership, I also took some distance. The last thing I wanted was for others to think we were the same…in every way.

Sometimes the decision isn’t who to add to your circle, but who to remove from it

Membership in your circle should be up for renewal regularly. Just because you trust someone once doesn’t mean they will always be right for this critical position. If you start to see new patterns emerge that don’t fit the qualities you’re looking for, you can subtly make a change. And should.

Wrapping it up…

This week, make a conscious decision that will impact your life as a leader. Choose your trust circle carefully…who is in, who is out.

I promise you…you’ll be more successful in the long run.

Now, go do good…and do it well.




12 responses to “The Most Important Decision Leaders Make”

  1. J. Dickinson Avatar
    J. Dickinson

    There is truth in this article. I appreciate the Trusted Circle Qualities and will keep this handy to read and reread. Thank you.

  2. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

    Thanks so much to you for your comment – I’m so pleased you found it helpful!

  3. Rebecca Heyl Avatar
    Rebecca Heyl

    I LOVE this topic! Great sage advice. It never hurts to remind us that our job is to be in relationships with people who have our best interests at heart. Your comments were also helpful about how to determine if someone does have our best interests at heart. Thank you for this!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      My pleasure! I think so many of us know this in concept, but it can get very tricky to figure out just HOW we know when it’s the right fit!

  4. Caroline Salazar Avatar

    Deidre—-as usual, it’s the brutal truth but we need to hear it. Many people in our field believe people are nice so they’re trust worthy. We also need to be reminded of what tools we need to use in deciphering the truth and how to approach people once we realize who they really are. As my father taught me growing up: #1 Your reputation is gold…keep it clean and protect it and #2 I know who you are by who your friends are. I will keep this post on hand and share with others. Thank you!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks Caroline…and your father was right on! It’s so easy to let people in and take risks when we don’t even know it. The trick of course is being professional and engaging with everyone – but not sharing our most sensitive stuff with JUST ANYONE!

  5. Amy Thoe Avatar
    Amy Thoe

    Thanks, Deirdre! Great advice… not always easy to keep in mind when you’re stressed but it’s important to keep your griping to a few trusted peeps.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Indeed! We all do it – but we don’t need to make it quite so…public. 🙂

  6. David M. Dye (@davidmdye) Avatar

    Outstanding advice Dierdre!

    Having a trusted group of advisers is critical and you’ve provided great criteria for anyone working on building their own group. I’ve been struggling to articulate these filters to others and now I don’t have to…I can point them here. Thanks!


    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Why thank you David – feel free to point away!

  7. Patricia Costa Avatar
    Patricia Costa

    Deirdre, thank you once again for such wonderful incite. I have learned those I can trust from experience and unfortunately being betrayed. As you say, it takes time. I have a handful of friends I can share my most secret emotions. Usually a red flag goes up for those I don’t want too close.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks for your comment! I think many of us have learned the hard way, like you did. Sometimes I really wish pain wasn’t such a great teacher!