The Pain of Hidden Agendas . . .


Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The older I get, the more I can learn from my past mistakes (and there are so many to learn from)!

Last evening I watched a Clint Eastwood film, Trouble with the Curve.  I enjoy Clint’s newer films far more than his earlier “spaghetti westerns”, mainly because they are filled with so much humanity and life lessons.  I guess old age, both for Clint and myself, bring a different perspective about life than when we were younger.

Anyway, I won’t give away the story too much other than to say, Clint is an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves and much of the huge emotional and communication barrier between this widowed father (Clint) and his now grown daughter is the result of “hidden agenda”.  Instead of telling the truth, the father wants to protect his daughter from harm (and his own incompleteness as a single parent), and as such sends here away for much of her young life; boarding school, surrogate family, etc.

All the while the daughter believes her father doesn’t care or love her, so becomes an overachiever to try to win back Dad’s affection.  When they finally do get back together, there is no common ground or honest communication between them.

And all because of “hidden agenda” and the inability to deal with secrets openly and honestly.  Both father and daughter have lived their lives under the wrong assumptions, causing much pain and mental suffering.

Despite this sad synopsis of mine, it’s actually a very good film, a feel good film, and a film with a major life lesson.  Hidden Agendas damage relationships, even with the best of intentions.

Hidden Agendas are also one of the major barriers to effective teamwork, and this is hidden agendaespecially damaging when it occurs among the senior executive team. Vice President X doesn’t trust VP Y because of something she thinks Y said or did.  Both are upset at each other, yet can’t seem to sit down and talk it out openly, which when they do often leads to the realisation that both have misunderstood the incident. Not only does this hidden agenda impact the ability of X and Y to work effectively together, but also impacts the entire senior team, who now have to either take sides or tiptoe around both.  And it definitely impacts the next level of managers, who see this “standoff” happening and feel caught in the middle.

More often than not, we effectively deal with one or more such hidden agendas in our senior team strategy alignment workshops, since effective strategy execution takes everyone being open and working fully together.  Hidden agendas kill business effectiveness and slow down strategy execution.

The best approach?  An honest and direct conversation, with real listening on both sides and the intention of putting it to rest!  And to most people’s amazement, the issue quickly shrinks down to the proper perspective and can be easily dealt with and buried.

If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we should find.  ~ John Churton Collins

Tight Lines . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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6 Responses to The Pain of Hidden Agendas . . .

  1. “Hidden agendas kill business effectiveness and slow down strategy execution.”

    I realize that the point of the post is to highlight the cost of hidden agendas with respect to corporate effectiveness, but it also has implications for politics. I’ve never been one to believe in conspiracy theories and this is one reason why. The effort to hide a large conspiracy, prevent whistleblowers, cover up tracks etc would likely cripple most governments and make them even more ineffective than they are already.


  2. Steve Borek says:

    Agendas are hidden because many times people aren’t able to articulate what they really want.

    So, as you point out in the last paragraph, have an open dialogue about what you’re expecting.

    In the end, it all comes down to direct communication.

    John, I enjoy your posts because they have lots of common sense. Not sure who said the following though it’s true:

    “Common sense is the least common of all senses”


  3. Raunak says:

    John, couldn’t have read this post at a more apt time. I find myself leading a company, trying to drag it out of a crisis, while there is absolutely no trust between the directors. I experience the negative effect of “Hidden Agendas” everyday at work. Wish I could inject some common sense into them.


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