The concept of hiding has a fascinating history. If we trace its origins, we're led to the Bible as providing the introduction of the concept and offering the earliest known documented account of a hiding incident. In the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve have partaken of the forbidden fruit and immediately become aware of their nakedness. Moses records that when they heard the voice of God, they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden” because they were afraid.
Hiding is the act of seeking to conceal one’s self, deeds or possessions. Ironically, when Adam and Eve first sought to hide, the very concept of hiding was a false concept. It’s not possible to hide from an omniscient, omnipotent power. The Garden of Eden was a place of absolute transparency.
Nevertheless, the act of hiding took hold and has taken on a multitude of forms ever since. Throughout the course of human history, hiding has served both noble and ignoble purposes. Most of the time our motivation to hide is to conceal bad things from good people or good things from bad people.
An instructive exercise is to take a week’s worth of news and simply identify the examples of hiding and exposure that grace the headlines. Here’s a sample from this past week:
President Obama was unaware that he was being recorded on an open microphone at a summit in Seoul, Korea. Speaking about missile defense systems, he said to outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. “This is my last election,” Obama said. “After my election, I have more flexibility.”
The former prime minister of Ireland, Bertie Ahern, tried to hide the fact that he had accepted payments while in office.
Six of the 68 head coaches whose teams participated in the 2012 NCAA tournament have undisclosed salaries. The other 58 salaries are public knowledge, including the whopping $5.4 million that Kentucky coach John Calipari will take home this year.
Iran is trying to hide its nuclear development program.
The head of an asset management company, Kazuhiko Asakawa, told the Japanese Parliament this week that he tried to hide $1.3 billion in client money for trading losses.
Teens are having a hard time hiding drug use and eating disorders in a milieu of pervasive social media.
Cybercriminals are advancing faster than cybersecurity systems can keep up. They are stealing and exposing hidden information that compromises privacy and security. The FBI wonders if there is a computer network that can truly claim to be impenetrable.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that internet companies are hiding the ways they are tracking your online purchasing behavior, viewing habits and personal preferences.
The cultural pattern of hiding the news of a miscarriage is breaking down. Couples have become more willing to share the news not only with family, but friends and co-workers.
Online scammers are hiding their true identity and fraudulently impersonating members of the armed services to swindle online shoppers.
As we move further into the digital age, it is becoming more difficult to hide ourselves, our deeds and our possessions. Compared to any other time in history, we are entering an age of radical transparency. Certainly the knife cuts both ways and there will be good and ill that come of it. The good is that it promotes and publishes good things and exposes bad things. They say that light is the best disinfectant, so that is one benefit of the digital age.
The implication for leaders is that they will be observed and scrutinized as never before. Leaders must assume this and recognize that the possibility of hiding anything is become ever more remote. With the moral drift of American society, the public often doesn’t care about the misdeeds of its leaders. But we should care. Our children care, and we are doing a thorough job of confusing them with our own behavior. They are digital natives, and they will witness in living color the good and the bad of that which was once hidden.
Leadership is about the nature of intent and the manner of influence. A leader’s operating assumption in the digital age should be that at least the second of those two things will be visible to the world as never before. Through the emerging radical transparency of the digital age, there’s a new multiplier effect. The only question is what we choose to multiply.
Timothy R. Clark is the founder of TRClark LLC, a management consulting and leadership development organization. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org