We all lie. You know it. I know it, and frankly, the people you’ve lied to also probably know it. Now, there are many degrees of lying. There are those collaborative lies that multiple parties condone, like “everything will be fine” when you know that may not be likely, but it is the concerted lie that you share with someone as a coping mechanism. There’s the ‘polite’ lie: “You look good in that outfit.” There’s my personal favorite, the ‘reflex’ lie which is the disingenuous response to the required pleasantry question, “How are you?”…”I’m great.” (Honestly, how often are you actually ‘great?’) There is the bold, nefarious lie told by the Maydoff’s of the world, “this investment is solid with virtually no risk.” And then there are the lies that you don’t even realize you are telling, most cannot discern when these lies are being told to them, and we generally get away with telling them. These are the lies we tell when the simple truth just doesn’t feel good enough. So we spin, distract, and elaborate and often desperate attempt to try and manipulate someone’s reaction to our desire. Effective leadership demands a high level of perceived trust, integrity, and a degree of transparency. Yet, too many leaders fail miserably on these metrics, which leaves me contemplating why isn’t the truth good enough? Or, why aren’t more people good enough to simply tell the truth?
To be able to define something, anything, in a simple truth can be very difficult. Not just because you need to have such a deep understanding that is often challenging and time consuming to derive, but all too often, the basic truth isn’t something that we can readily accept. Sometimes simplicity can be found, but the actuality of the matter is somehow discouraging, counter-indicated, or often painful. So even if we are lucky enough to have the epiphany, and subsequently open minded enough to accept it, we may still be reticent to communicate it truthfully because we fear it will be ill received. We may even convince ourselves of a noble justification for being less than truthful. We rationalize that the truth might be hurtful to others and we want to protect them. That’s generally a load crap! We are really just protecting ourselves because sometimes it sucks to be the messenger, but it feels better to tell yourself and others that you are just being unselfish. I can’t help remembering what my father told me when I was young: His actual words to me were, “you lie because you don’t think the truth is good enough.” In my revisionist version of history, I’d like to think he was referring to a ubiquitous ‘you’ rather than calling his 13-year-old kid a liar. But childhood scars aside, it is a valid perspective that we are so fearful of how our truth is received by ourselves and others that we fool ourselves into believing we can somehow influence how we are perceived by telling a modified story. I have often wondered when we all became so microscopically judgmental and fearful in the first place. Since when does everything in life have to be adjudicated and allocated as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. When most everything in and of business and life is simply a fact of circumstance that simply ‘is.’
So whether we are too insecure about the ‘goodness’ of the simple truth and/or we are trying to allay our trepidations of a judgment that we cannot control and may be nothing more than an aberration, we lie. We spin the message, wordsmith, and even distract our communications in order to present it in a way that justifies the jaded version of our message, and in doing so, convince ourselves that we were even righteous. However, anything but the simple truth is in some degree or another a ‘lie.’ I am optimistic that in many instances, the lie isn’t done with any nefarious intent. Though I’m not so naive that I know there are overwhelming instances where messaging is deceptive and an intentional obfuscation of a truth that a nefarious leader is genuinely fearful. And, frankly, some people just suck and lie indiscriminately. Regardless of intention, at some level, anything outside of the simple truth is a manipulative tactic in the futile attempt to somehow believe we have the power to get people to like us more. In actuality, the only person we really need to convince is the one in the mirror.
Prolific sales people and many managers have been trained to be dubious of how the truth might sound or be construed. So words are chosen with the intent to protect, soften and (of course) persuade. This communication skill can be a strength, but the reality of any circumstance is that we can never impose the control we want, hope, and fruitlessly aspire over how other people ultimately respond to what we say. To be an effective leader, we must be disciplined and diligent enough to find and be accepting of our own truth.
Only through the ‘simple truth’ can we hope to come to a reality and insight that was better than where we started. When we can be bold enough to accept the truth for its face value, we will become more trusted and successful leaders. That’s when we have our best shot at adding meaningful, long-term value to our ventures.
Stay tuned: Recognize when someone is lying to you…