The Lunacy of Lying

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Lies are lies. If it’s not the truth it’s a lie, no matter how much you want to believe it. When you tell a lie you damage your credibility, credibility that you need in order to lead. 

Let’s begin with some incredible research findings about deception. 

  • Humans are lied to as many as 200 times a day. 
  • Humans detect lies with only 54% accuracy. 
  • Of the lies we tell 25% are for someone else’s sake. 
  • Children begin deceiving as early as 6 months of age. 
  • Avoiding eye contact is the most presumed sign of lying around the world—even though it’s false.
  • People engaged in normal honest conversation only make direct eye contact 30-60% of the time.
  • Law enforcement officials—including FBI agents, customs agents and judges— performed no better than the average person in detecting deception.

The research suggests it’s harder to tell when someone is lying than we think it is and that around half the lies told go undetected. 

That’s all kinda bad news but it pales in comparison to this absolute truth: the lies we tell ourselves do immeasurably more harm to our ability to lead than the lies we tell others. That’s true because when we lie to ourselves, when we convince ourselves that fiction is fact, we will surely share that lie with others. 

Once you master lying to yourself you will lie to anyone, whether you intend to or not. You actually can become unsure of what the truth really is. It is possible that you don’t even consider an untruth to be a lie. Deception simply becomes a tool you use to manipulate others.

Leading people has nothing to do with manipulating them. Leading requires a relationship of sorts between the leader and the follower. When people feel manipulated they do not trust the manipulator. Absent trust, there can be no relationship. 

Not only does lying damage the ability of others to trust you, it damages YOUR ability to trust others. People who are untrustworthy have major issues trusting other people too.

The people you lead NEED to know they can believe what you say. They need to know that they can trust you. Once, yes once, you’re caught in a lie you make it much harder for your people to follow you.

But I’m betting that you don’t consider yourself a liar. You’re an honest person who maybe just “withholds some details,” or doesn’t exactly tell the “whole truth” in order to allow someone to save face. 

I get that but here’s what you need to get: The absence of truth is a lie. Withholding even part of the truth is lying. You need to be very very careful with the first lie because the first lie very often leads to telling a second lie to protect the truth from the first lie. Lying is the leading cause of more lying. 

Some people excuse themselves for lying with the statement that “the truth hurts.” Well telling someone the truth is like pulling a band-aid off quickly, telling a lie is like pulling it off slowly. The fact is, lies hurt too, they just hurt longer.

Lying is lunacy, it always burns the liar in the end. Even if no one else catches you in the lie, you know that you lied and if you’re a normal person, that in itself will eventually burn you.

Lies almost never work out, the truth almost always does….play the odds, tell the truth! 

 

Does Deceit Show Poor Judgment?

I go back and forth on the most important characteristic for leadership. Sometimes I know it is good judgment. Other times I’m just as certain it’s integrity.

I understand that both are vital but if one of them must be first then which one is it?

Someone recently asked me a question that causes me to think that one of those characteristics, or rather, the lack of one of those characteristics, proves the other is missing too.

The question was this: Which causes the failure of more leaders, mistakes of judgment or the deceptiveness of the leader?

I can certainly think of many leadership failures caused by poor judgment. Those judgment errors have resulted in interminable calamities, both for the leader and their organizations. But if we’re talking about just the pure number of leadership failures then you would have to say more are caused, perhaps far more, by the leader’s deceptiveness.

When you actually stop to think about it most of the deceptions and lies put forth by a failed leader where to cover up some other episode of poor judgment. The problem is the deception most often is worse than the original poor judgment.

If the leader would have just stepped up and admitted to the poor judgment they likely, or at least possibly, could have survived the situation. The original poor judgment, when compounded with the attempt to deceive will almost certainly lead to the downfall of the leader.

That being the case it seems clear to me that lack of integrity causes more leadership failures. It also likely causes more problems for the organization of the deceptive leader.

But then again, if the leader had great judgment they might not have any reason to deceive.

This seems a bit like the “chicken or the egg” question. So what say you?

The Real Truth About Lying

The first big lie is that there are levels of lying, that lower level, little lies don’t really matter. They do matter and here’s why: lying becomes habit forming, especially those little lies you tell yourself.

They matter because little lies grow into big lies, those little lies also multiply, quickly growing beyond your control. The very first lie you tell will almost guarantee another lie somewhere down the road. The next lie is always bigger than the last but no lie is big enough to hide the truth forever, sooner or later the truth will prevail. 

Sometimes people lie to “protect” others or to “protect” a relationship but the truth is they’re likely really just protecting themselves. They can’t fully explain the truth so they just find it easier to lie. Most lies are “self” motivated, meaning you lie for yourself but you’ll never see that until you’re honest with yourself. That’s how the cycle of lying begins and once it begins it’s very hard to stop.

The truth about lying is that it’s incredibly expensive. It often costs the liar far more than it costs the person lied to. Unless of course the person you have lied to is yourself; that is the most expensive lie of all.

When you lie to yourself you steal your opportunity for success, lies take your motivation to give your best effort away. They give you permission to fail. When you lie to yourself you no longer feel obligated to accept responsibility for your actions. When you tell yourself “you’ve done all that you can” when in fact you know in your heart that you haven’t, then you steal your own opportunity to reach your full potential. 

There are no lies more damaging than the lies you tell yourself because the fact is, if you’re lying to yourself you’re lying to everyone else too. 

That doesn’t mean however that it’s okay to lie to others as long as you’re honest with yourself. Lying to anyone is damaging to your integrity. In business, in relationships, and in life there is no greater asset to have than integrity. 

Without integrity you instantly lose the ability to lead. If your people can’t trust you they won’t follow you. If your people can’t believe you they won’t believe in you. If they don’t believe in you they find it hard to believe anything you say. That makes it pretty tough to truly lead. 

When you lie you lose relationships. Real relationships, every real relationship is built on trust. That’s why when you lie to “protect” a relationship you’re almost always doing more damage in the long run. It may be easier for you in the short-term but if you really want to protect the relationship then tell the truth from the beginning. 

Not only do lies damage relationships with others, if you lie long enough and you even lose yourself. 

When you simply tell the truth, every time, you have much less to remember. There is no need to remember who you told what because you told everyone the same thing. Telling the truth sets you free from the worry of “slipping up” and having to tell another lie to hide the last one. 

One more thing for the doubters reading this: if you don’t believe you’re smart enough to be able to tell the truth without offending people then you’re most definitely lying to yourself. Set yourself free and tell the truth, you’re smart enough to do that.