Leaders: How to Be a Lying SOB


Liars – Are Leaders Honest Enough?

I expect most everyone would argue that leaders must have high ethics and be honest with their dealings with each other, but are leaders really being honest?

Big Question: 

As leaders, at all levels in the organization, are we honest enough to have “real” conversations?

On Being Genuine

I have often posited that the majority of problems we face as leaders, or followers for that matter, in our organizations could be eliminated if we would have the genuineness to be honest to each other and most importantly ourselves.

However, my experience suggests that when placed in face-to-face or stressful situations where this honesty is most important, we verbiage (fudge) just enough to avoid the real conversation and the conversation that is really needed.

On Being Ineffective

Paul Morin’s article, 7 common traits of ineffective leaders, provides a valuable view of what ineffective leaders do, but why do these leaders have these ineffective traits.

I would suggest that with many, it is because they have trouble being honest with themselves first and with others second.

On Being Right

I understand that some leaders are more interested in being right than getting it right.

And always remember that aberrant leadership behavior can be driven from this self-serving position.

However, I also believe, and my experience supports, that most leaders want to do what is right, and it is their inability to be candid that stimulates the ineffective behavior.

That is, even the most ethical, caring, and utility-focused leader will often cave and become disingenuous when faced with stressful conversation. They turn from a normal and healthy leader into one who looks to the dark side for their short-term gain.

They become a lying leader.

On Being a Lying Son of a Gun Leader

For example, these type of stressed-out leaders can turn to these unbecoming tricks:


Is it possible that the leader is micro managing because she can’t be honest to herself about her elevated view of her capabilities or diminished view of her followers’ capabilities?

Unclear Objectives

Is it possible that the leader is unclear about the objectives because he won’t be honest about his inability to create solid objectives and his unwillingness to be honest to others about the need for help?

Frequent Direction Changes

Is it possible that the leader changes direction frequently because he is concerned about where the organization is really heading and believes the employees can’t handle the truth?

No Culture of Accountability

Is it possible that the no culture of accountability exist because the leader is unwilling to have the tough and candid conversation with those who are not performing well?

Don’t Walk Their Talk

Is it possible that the reason the leader doesn’t walk the talk is she really doesn’t believe the talk in the first place?

Run People Over

Is it possible that the leader runs people over because he is unwilling to be honest with himself about his lack of self-esteem?

Take Credit for Everything

Do you agree that taking credit for everything is dishonest behavior and a perfect example of lying to everyone?

I believe the answer to each of these examples is YES! But I believe it is much more than possible on organizations.

I believe it is actually PREVALENT in our organizations!

Low EQ

This dishonesty could be driven from low emotional intelligence, a romantic view of leadership, or an inability to handle conflict. Regardless of the reason for the dishonesty, the lack of candor throughout our business organizations is the single biggest reason I see preventing high performing teams and delivery of superior results.


In order to stop this, leaders must get a grip on what they are doing that undermines their credibility and put a stop to it. Leaders need to get on a course of credibility and authenticity so that their followers have something of import to follow. Leaders need to stop lying to themselves and do what it takes to have a healthy look in the mirror so that they can project this type of authenticity to their teams.

Do you believe most leaders or followers are honest enough to have real conversations in their organizations? What can we, as leaders and change agents, do to encourage a culture where respectful and candid (real) conversations take place? How much better would our organizations be if we could create an environment of respect and genuineness?


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Dr. Greg Howes
is Director of Program Management Office at Harris CapRock

He helps clients  optimize their performance every aspect of business and success
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Image Sources:  afunfair.files.wordpress.com


6 responses to “Leaders: How to Be a Lying SOB

  1. All the examples are likely. However few leaders are willing to be candid and show any type of weakness. The lack of candor throughout an organization could be the result of the “Peter Principle” of 1969. I presume that many mid and small businesses have a “Dilbert Principle” resulting from hiring family and friends. In both cases the continued existence of the organization is usually based on managing from the bottom. It could also be staff doing whatever it takes to keep the organization alive and keep a job!

    This could lead one to also believe that independent psychological testing along with subordinate evaluation/grading could lead to wiser choices in leadership positions.


    • Hi Dave,

      I think I understand your point about the “Peter Principle”. That is, managers are promoted to the their level of incompetence, However, my experience says it is not about competence: It is about the fear of being honest. It is like people don’t have the emotional intelligence to realize they are no better or no worse that anyone else. They put their skirt on like everyone else…It is as if they posture to protect their ego instead of feeling comfortable in their own skin and being honest.

      Does this make sense?


      Dr. Greg


  2. Anywhere fear takes hold, even in the smallest way, deceit will naturally follow. Are the people you manage afraid of you? Of course they are: you hold their paycheck, and thus the security of their families and perhaps their entire self-concept in your hands. That is an awesome responsibility.

    Are you afraid of your manager? Of course you are: she holds your paycheck, and thus the security of your family and perhaps your entire self-concept, in her hands.

    I believe strongly that the structure of every organization creates the conditions for deceit. But there is a force that’s stronger than structure, and that’s culture. A genuine culture of trust is one in which people are rewarded for being honest even, and perhaps especially, when they bring “bad news.” This kind of culture can ONLY take root in organizations where every leader, and especially the most senior, are extremely rigorous in being truthful. Moreover, these leaders must publicly punish people who violate the norm of honesty. Let’s face it: these conditions are rarely met. Without role models for these kinds of cultures, it is challenging to build one. Team and group level managers can build these by following the guidance in your post, starting with building their emotional intelligence and thus their courage, which is what it takes to tell the truth.

    With respect to your point about “cultures of accountability,” I would offer that almost everyone, and almost every organization, conflates accountability with blame. They are not in any way the same thing. Blame is assigned, and accountability is chosen, and that’s only a place from which to start. This confusion is both a symptom and a source of the fear-based cultures that most organizations, sadly, promote unconsciously and unintentionally. Accountability and fear are orthogonal.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post.


    • Hi Jonathan,

      Your point concerning fear is on point, but I’m not sure I agree deceit will follow. Is it really the fear that promotes the deceit, or is it the feeling of superiority or inferiority (the lack of emotional intelligence) that is causing the issue.

      I’m not sure money is really the motivator for most people. I think the literature suggest that it is finding meaning in one’s work.

      Check out Victor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning. . This one will get you reflecting for sure!

      Concerning Blame, I think you are spot on! Frankl states Man is free to do as he or she chooses, however, with freedom comes responsibility.

      Thus, how to do we build organizations where we encourage the freedom and the responsibility (accountability)?


  3. Wow! This is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I just quit my job at a leading ‘natural and organic’ retailer because of the conditions described in the original post and the replies.

    When I started there 10 years ago I found a real culture of leadership, trust, honest communication, and ‘challengeablitly’ (if that’s even a word!?)… almost anything could be questioned. It was a values driven company and I felt great about working there.

    A few years ago the founder stepped out of his role as the true leader of the company and things started to change. Regional leadership roles started to be filled by people who had no interest in leadership, honesty, or the core values on which the company was built.

    I could see it all happening and not matter who I spoke to about the changes it seemed I could do nothing to stop it. In my interactions with regional ‘leaders’ and store level ‘leaders’ I came to believe that the fear, and lack of emotional intelligence stems from a lack of self development. With regional ‘leaders’ who could not be questioned, micromanaging, and with greed as their only value, every other ‘leader’s’ job became keeping their job. The fear was systemic at that point, and I don’t think it can change until the people at the very top decide to return to the core values.

    I don’t think that any of these people are ‘bad people’, or that the intend to be that way… and I believe it takes a certain amount of work on ourselves, whether it be a humbling experience, spirituality, or whatever it takes to break out of our self centeredness.

    Many of these people have risen through the ranks without any major setbacks or failures. I’ve been there… receiving nothing but positive feedback and getting promotion after promotion leads to inflated egos, self centeredness, and in my case fear of losing what I had gained. I think for most of us there has to be some consequence or setback to get us to see ourselves differently, and realize that helping others/service to others, honesty and humility is the path to success.

    For me it was a hard road, and one well worth the work. I am proud of what I was able to accomplish while working there. I hired and helped develop more people into actual leaders than anyone else I know who worked there, and I feel good about that.

    On to the next challenge!


  4. Pingback: Linked2leadership Blog | The BlameBuster Blog·

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