When Leaders Lie


A leader, at least an authentic leader has many tools and skills at their disposal. They have excellent judgment, they have far reaching vision and they are outstanding communicators to name just a few.

Of all the tools and skills they possess however, none is more important than credibility. Credibility makes everything else “work”. Without credibility they don’t need a vision, without credibility nothing they say will be believed, no matter how well they might have said it.

If you’re a leader who lies to your people then you have almost certainly lost the right to lead. Your people may still be complying with the requirements placed on them but they are no longer committed to you, or in most cases, the organization. Their trust is gone and gone with it is the respect that you desperately need to lead.

I think big lies hurt the most but the effect of a series of small lies, you know those little white ones, can have the same effect over time as one big whopper. When you are less than honest, completely honest, with your people they begin to doubt everything you say even when you are honest. When they can’t believe what you say they assume the worst and morale plunges.

I have this concept that I talk about from time to time. It’s the concept of a “credibility bank.” We begin a relationship with a certain amount of credibility and everything we say and do either adds or subtracts from that credibility. When we do what we say we will, when we tell the truth, we receive a small deposit into out credibility bank.

When our actions fail to match what we say, when we are less than completely honest with people, we suffer a substantial withdraw from our credibility bank.

That means it takes much longer to restore our credibility than it does to lose it. You may want to think about that the next time you’re tempted to “shade” an answer “just a little.”

Now, there will be some people reading this who believe that being 100% honest with people is naive. They will say there are times when you just can’t be honest, that you “must” lie for the other person’s own good. They say there are times when we must lie to protect another person. They also frequently mention “company secrets.”


Every one of those “excuses” is a sign of a leader too lazy to do it right or a leader who lacks the confidence to have difficult conversations with their people.

If you have company secrets (those things which really would negatively impact the competitive strength of the company if widely known) then look your people in the eye and tell them you can’t share that with them. It should be noted that there are very, very few real company secrets. Often, management doesn’t share the info out of a mistaken belief that knowledge is power.

An authentic leader is caring enough to find a way to deliver the truth in a manner that doesn’t hurt and in a manner that builds relationships over the long haul. It might not be easy but an authentic leader puts in the effort to build their credibility at every turn.

Don’t take your credibility for granted, it’s easier to lose than many people think. Always make sure you know the truth and that the truth is what you tell. Your people need a leader they can trust and you need your people to trust you.

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