If you like your insurance, you can keep it, period.
Seems like a pretty straightforward and simple sentence, but as it turned out… not so much. President Obama made that statement countless times through the past several years as he campaigned for the Affordable Care Act. I have no way to know whether it was an honest statement, but it clearly was not the truth.
Obviously, The President did not tell the truth when he made that statement, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t an honest person. He simply could have gotten it wrong. He and virtually no one else involved in the crafting of the law truly understood what it was. Everybody is still learning it’s impact even today.
Just an aside, that isn’t necessarily bad leadership, The President may have just decided to get passed what he could get passed and figured he could and would fix it later. Sometimes when we wait for perfect we end up with nothing. You can argue all you want that in this case nothing would be better than what we got but those kinds of differences of opinion are what got horse racing it’s start.
Which brings us to one Mr. Brian Williams, the anchor for a major network’s nightly news broadcast. For the last few years he has been telling the story of his time in Iraq early during the U.S. invasion. As he tells it, or told it, the helicopter he was riding in came under enemy fire and was hit by an Iraqi Rocket Propelled Grenade. He said their “bird,” as the military pilots call it made a swift and hard hard landing.
He told the story with emotion and intensity and who wouldn’t – that has to be a life experience that would never be forgotten. Or confused.
It seems the other people on the helicopter, and the other helicopters in the formation remembered those events differently. Quite a bit differently.
When confronted with the “inconsistencies” in his version of events his response was something along the lines of “oh yeah, that’s right it was the helicopter in front of us that was hit. He said he wasn’t lying it was just a simple mistake, one caused by time and the fog of battle.
I’ve never been in battle but I was robbed at gunpoint a couple of times when working in my Grandfather’s grocery store. I can still see the rifling in the barrel of the gun as it was up against the bridge of my nose. There is no way I would confuse that, there is no way the kid next to me would ever think the gun was actually against his head. No way!
There is a difference between truth and honesty. We can be honest and still not tell the truth. Being mistaken doesn’t make us a liar, it might make us incompetent but incompetence doesn’t make someone a liar either.
Brian Williams is a very competent news professional. We can’t really know if he was purposely lying. He really may have been confused, he may have actually thought he was shot down, maybe he thought he was the first man on the moon too. Or maybe he was just lying through his teeth.
There is no way to know what he was thinking but I do know which option is easiest to believe.
Which brings us to you… and all leaders.
Credibility is a fragile necessity of leadership. Credibility is required to lead and while it’s obvious that being caught in a lie can destroy it we forget that a “mistake” can destroy it too.
We don’t know what was in Brian Williams’ heart as he told his story of Iraq but as leaders we know that even if it was an honest mistake his credibility is gone. It’s way too hard for way too many people to believe it was a simple mistake. He is a person who works in the credibility business and his credibility is shot even if his helicopter wasn’t.
As a leader you are in the credibility business too, your business may not be as public as Brian Williams’ but to the people you lead your credibility is every bit as important.
Never forget, you can be an honest person and still not be telling the truth. If you’re not sure about something then say you’re not sure. When you are careless with the truth your people will soon care less about following you.