The World’s Biggest Liars

Truth, the kind that is supported by facts, seems to be in shorter supply all the time. I think much of the credit for that goes to the internet. Mark Twain famously said that “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up it’s boots.” 

Mr. Twain didn’t foresee the development of the World Wide Web, if he had he would likely have said a lie has no data caps but the truth gets 1gig max. 

Lies spread likes wildfires and these days Smokey Bear is no where to be seen. One person uses Social Media to strike a match and every one else pours gas on it with likes and retweets. It seems as if the only thing needed to make a lie the truth is the desire to believe it. 

As George Costanza was known to say on Seinfeld, “it’s not a lie if you believe it.” Unfortunately for George that’s a lie too.

Depending on which research you choose to believe people lie on average between 2 to 200 times a day. Most of the research on lying also shows that 75% of people claim they never lie, not ever. (They might be lying about that) So let’s take the midpoint of all the research and say the average person lies 100 times a day. Since 75% of people never lie, that means that some people must lie virtually all the time. You can’t believe anything they say. Whatever the actual number, most of the lies are thought to be harmless and even “protective” of people’s feelings. But telling lies is a slippery slope. 

The absolute biggest liars in the world, both on social media and in person are “They” and it’s close relative, “They Say.” 

They and They Say can make up anything they want and yet can’t be held accountable. They and They Say are willing co-conspirators of anyone who wants to spread rumors and falsehoods. People convince themselves that they aren’t lying because “They” or “They Say” said it. 

Kinda like, “I don’t know for sure but “They” say that the refs were bought off in each of the four Super Bowls the Minnesota Vikings lost.” Now understand, it’s not me saying that, “They” said it. I’m just repeating what I heard. So if it turns out to not be true it’s not like I was lying. 

Here’s the deal folks, if you spread something that may not be true you are at minimum guilty of spreading rumors. If you know it’s not true then you’re lying, no matter how much you may want it to be true. But even if you’re absolutely certain that something is true you should ask yourself if sharing it has any value to anyone or if what you’re thinking of sharing will cause irreparable harm to someone. 

I used to be a pretty big “They Say” sharer. I’ve worked over the last several years to stop that unprofessional behavior. I’m better off for making that effort and you will be too. 

Don’t pass on the words of the world’s biggest liars, there is enough fake information out there already. NO ONE needs more. 

Truth, Honesty and Brian Williams

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.