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The Sword of Certainty: Information is Power

Why communicative leaders share information generously.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer


Leaders must wield the Sword of Certainty wisely.

Being informed and gran­ted a big­ger pic­ture is a typ­ic­al lead­er­ship priv­ilege. It grants the lead­er an extra buf­fer of power over the uninformed.

However, as the say­ing goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Here we go:

The Psychological Weight of Uncertainty

At a mil­it­ary train­ing ground, an instruct­or faced 20 fresh recruits. It was time for an early morn­ing round of pushups. With a stern voice, the instruct­or com­manded the recruits to the ground. “Down! Up! Down! Up!”

The instruct­or refused to reveal the num­ber of pushups required, and the recruits felt their strength wane quickly under the psy­cho­lo­gic­al weight of uncer­tainty. “I won­der how many pushups he will have us do,” they all thought to themselves.

By the 18th pushup, half of the group had suc­cumbed to the strain. The instruct­or, observing the ten weary sol­diers, finally called a halt. The instruct­or left the les­son of the day unspoken.

The fol­low­ing dawn brought clar­ity. “Twenty pushups,” the instruct­or declared. This time, armed with know­ledge and a goal, the recruits com­pleted the task without fal­ter­ing. The power of cer­tainty had fueled their resolve.

On the third day, the instruct­or gathered the recruits. He unrav­elled the mys­tery of the first day’s tri­al, explain­ing his strategy to accli­mate them to psy­cho­lo­gic­al dis­com­fort and the ever-loom­ing cloud of uncer­tainty. His les­son was clear: expect the unex­pec­ted and find strength in not knowing.

Once more, he ordered pushups without reveal­ing the count. But this time, some­thing had changed. The recruits, seasoned by their pre­vi­ous exper­i­ences, pushed through their lim­its. At the 30th pushup, the instruct­or decided to end the exer­cise. At that point, only four recruits had fol­ded. 1Silfwer, J. (2013, May 3). 11 Evil Leadership Techniques. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​l​e​a​d​e​r​s​h​i​p​-​t​e​c​h​n​i​q​u​es/

Information is Power

As a lead­er, dis­sem­in­at­ing inform­a­tion on a “need to know” basis isn’t neces­sar­ily a good com­mu­nic­a­tion strategy. “Do as many pushups as you can” isn’t enough con­text for max­im­ising a team’s total num­ber of reps. We’re all more or less uncom­fort­able with uncertainty.

Insecure lead­ers tend to keep inform­a­tion close to their chests to retain an upper hand in the rela­tion­ship. However, even aver­age lead­ers under­es­tim­ate the inform­a­tion people need to man­age a stress­ful situation.

In the example above, the recruits pro­duced their best res­ults on day three — without know­ing the rules of the pushup exer­cise. Still, they could with­stand the pres­sure of uncer­tainty because they had learned to trust that their lead­er was oper­at­ing from a frame­work of cer­tainty by then.

It’s a per­sist­ent — and unfor­tu­nate! — cor­por­ate myth that only a few people in any organ­isa­tion deserve (or are cap­able of know­ing and under­stand­ing) the “big picture.”

Lack of Information is Information, Too

Sometimes, a lead­er can­not access more inform­a­tion than any­one else. But at any giv­en moment, this is only par­tially true.

When there’s an inform­a­tion defi­cit, the lead­er typ­ic­ally knows full well that there is no more inform­a­tion to be had at that moment. However, the people in the organ­isa­tion don’t know wheth­er they’ve been giv­en all the inform­a­tion or not.

And wheth­er there’s an inform­a­tion defi­cit or not, the lead­er typ­ic­ally has a say in what hap­pens next regard­less. For instance, a lead­er might know that if there’s no new inform­a­tion in the next hour, no spe­cif­ic actions will be taken. Insecure and aver­age lead­ers think of such situ­ations as “empty” of information.

Great lead­ers, how­ever, will do everything they can to dis­sem­in­ate con­tex­tu­al inform­a­tion to as many co-work­ers as pos­sible at any giv­en time:

In the next hour, there won’t be any new inform­a­tion, so there won’t be any new decisions, which means that in the next hour, we will be doing exactly what we’ve been doing now for the past hour.”

Having advised and coached exec­ut­ives on stra­tegic com­mu­nic­a­tion for nearly two dec­ades, I still haven’t seen a single lead­er ever hav­ing passed on too much rel­ev­ant information. 

  • It’s gen­er­ally bet­ter to “over-com­mu­nic­ate” (tol­er­able added effort) than “under-com­mu­nic­ate” (sub­stan­tial added risk).

If the inform­a­tion is rel­ev­ant and presen­ted con­fid­ently, “over-com­mu­nic­a­tion” is vir­tu­ally impossible.

The Sword of Certainty

People under­stand that no one can know everything about everything. Few people expect lead­ers to be all-know­ing. What they expect from lead­ers is cer­tainty.

Leaders’ influ­ence increases with their sense of dir­ec­tion and clar­ity of com­mu­nic­a­tion, but power-hungry lead­ers may obfus­cate mes­sages for atten­tion.”
Source: American Political Science Review 2Dewan, T., & Myatt, D. (2007). The Qualities of Leadership: Direction, Communication, and Obfuscation. American Political Science Review, 102, 351 — … Continue read­ing

Certainty is a sword of power to yield. Share your cer­tainty, and you’ll cre­ate a stable organ­isa­tion. Keep the inform­a­tion to your­self; the psy­cho­lo­gic­al weight of uncer­tainty will push your organisation’s res­ults down.

Information Asymmetry

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Information Asymmetry

The concept of “inform­a­tion asym­metry” is a psy­cho­lo­gic­al effect where one party in a trans­ac­tion or situ­ation has more or bet­ter inform­a­tion than the oth­er. This is a cru­cial concept in eco­nom­ics and game theory.

  • The power of inform­a­tion lies not just in its pos­ses­sion, but in its art­ful dissemination.

In eco­nom­ic terms, inform­a­tion asym­metry was extens­ively explored by George Akerlof, Michael Spence, and Joseph E. Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001 for ana­lys­ing mar­kets with asym­met­ric inform­a­tion. While their work is primar­ily in eco­nom­ics, the prin­ciples broadly apply to situ­ations where unequal inform­a­tion dis­tri­bu­tion affects decision-mak­ing. 3Information asym­metry. (2023, December 11). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​I​n​f​o​r​m​a​t​i​o​n​_​a​s​y​m​m​e​try

Information asym­metry is dynam­ic, where the informed advant­age is some­times good, some­times bad.

Information asym­metry neg­at­ively impacts per­form­ance in goods set­tings and pos­it­ively in ser­vices set­tings, while inform­a­tion shar­ing has stronger favour­able effects in con­sumer mar­kets and is weak­er in rela­tion­ships over 6 years old.”
Source: Industrial Marketing Management 4Tong, P., & Crosno, J. (2016). Are inform­a­tion asym­metry and shar­ing good, bad, or con­text depend­ent? A meta-ana­lyt­ic review. Industrial Marketing Management, 56, 167 – 180. … Continue read­ing

Learn more: Information Asymmetry: The Informed Minority Advantage

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1 Silfwer, J. (2013, May 3). 11 Evil Leadership Techniques. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​l​e​a​d​e​r​s​h​i​p​-​t​e​c​h​n​i​q​u​es/
2 Dewan, T., & Myatt, D. (2007). The Qualities of Leadership: Direction, Communication, and Obfuscation. American Political Science Review, 102, 351 — 368. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​7​/​S​0​0​0​3​0​5​5​4​0​8​0​8​0​234
3 Information asym­metry. (2023, December 11). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​I​n​f​o​r​m​a​t​i​o​n​_​a​s​y​m​m​e​try
4 Tong, P., & Crosno, J. (2016). Are inform­a­tion asym­metry and shar­ing good, bad, or con­text depend­ent? A meta-ana­lyt­ic review. Industrial Marketing Management, 56, 167 – 180. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​J​.​I​N​D​M​A​R​M​A​N​.​2​0​1​5​.​1​1​.​004
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations obviously; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that it's good to have hobbies outside work.

The cover photo has



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