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The perils of dishonesty

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Leaders have always had to lie. What matters is whether they’re lying for a greater good or merely for their own good. The first kind of lie may be acceptable. The second kind never is.

The lore behind America’s greatest leaders has been their complete honesty. Well, that’s not entirely true. Thomas Jefferson lied indirectly in making the Louisiana Purchase and FDR hid his failing health. Even Abraham Lincoln, dubbed “Honest Abe,” was accused of being two-faced, to which he famously replied: “If I had another face, do you think I’d wear this one?”

It’s serious business when leaders lie, so bear in mind that:
  • Ignorance is no excuse. Willful disregard for the truth is the moral equivalent of lying. Even if you believe something is true when you say it, you need to pay attention, adjust your thinking and correct course when new information comes along.

  • Demanding total loyalty backfires. It mutes the honest feedback a leader needs from subordinates. Double-check whether your definition of “team player” is the same as others’ definition of “lackey.”

  • Arrogance doesn’t help, either. It’s possible to have such a high level of certitude that you will block out the truth and fall prey to self-aggrandizing lies, aka boasting.

  • Differences exist between optimism and delusion, even if only with a fine line. While it’s true that optimists go further in this world than pessimists, it’s also true that delusional people eventually get pushed aside. Wishful thinking can’t substitute for a strategy.

  • Reality won’t always match your perception. The most dangerous lies are the ones you tell yourself.
—Adapted from “Untruth and Consequences,” Carl Cannon, The Atlantic.

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