The Top Ten Lies Leaders Believe
The truth is we tell ourselves lies. Lies seem to make life better, they make us feel more useful and in control.
I can always tell when I touch the lies people believe about themselves. They deny the obvious and defend the ridiculous. It reminds me of the time one of our children denied stomping up the crumbed crackers they were standing in.
Excuses are the way we defend the lies we tell ourselves. Someone said, “An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” I’ve seen plenty of stuffing. How about you?
The top ten lies leaders believe:
- People love it when I tweak their work.
- They’ll forget my emotional outbursts.
- Hiding weaknesses works.
- If I close my eyes, this problem will eventually go away.
- Everything depends on me.
- I am a good listener.
- I welcome new ideas.
- I don’t have a problem with arrogance.
- I talk values, mission, and vision enough.
- I need more time.
What lie did I forget?
Which lies are most dangerous?
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Great list. My addition (used to have a boss who said this all the time): “This is business, so it’s nothing personal.” He used that to excuse a lot of hurtful or (to me) unethical actions. He never realized the truth that everying is about relationships, so it’s all personal.
I think the lies that we use to isolate ourselves from people, or keep them at arms length, are the most dangerous. Relationships are labor-intensive and often messy, but anything you do that doesn’t involve people isn’t leadership. Leadership is always about people.
For your consideration. It took me a LONG time to understand that most things are not personal. People are mostly focused in their own head with their stuff. (A good read on the subject is The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz)
I certainly have had people in my life whose actions looked personal, but when I reflected on it, their actions were more about them than me. In the end the valuable lesson was to not make assumptions about people’s motivations. To check it out. To not take things personally, because when I did I was giving people power and stature in my life that they didn’t deserve. That took energy that I could use for something far more useful.
I think the good listener is an excellent “lie.”
How many times do leaders miss what’s being communicated to them by their organization? Some even ask the right questions but feel to actually hear what’s being said, and then address the wrong issue or non-issue.
Which leads to a feeling of why even bother mentioning something to our leader.
I think 3 and 4 are so dangerous. They hinder the ability of the organization to move forward. Avoidance behaviors rarely work.
Yet another lie. This is my kingdom.
Every time my team detects another lie I’m hiding behind, they are further convinced that I’m out of touch with reality.
I believe you are onto the MOST difficult task of us leaders — to be transparently honest with OURSELVES first.
Amen, Jeff. Honesty with ourselves is very difficult.
Another lie I often hear which is related to numbers 6 and 7 above, my door is always open.
But is this a list that leaders buy into, or managers? I hate to dive into semantics, but let’s call a spade a spade.
Hi Rob, probably some of both. What do you think? Best, Dan
Great point, Rob, thank you. Top Lie Managers Believe: I am a manager, therefore I am a leader.
Great list! Your post reminds me of one of my all time favorite quotes by Dr. Toni Grant; “Nobody lies to us as much as we lie to ourselves”.
High lighting number 8; Harold Geneen in his land mark book, Managing, states that egotism is more destructive than alcoholism. I saw that play out more than once during my decade plus in the corporate world. #8 is probably the most dangerous since blindness is a foundational characteristic of that lie. Those who lead blindly will eventually be blindsided.
Another big lie: I want my team to tell me if they see a problem with my idea/plan/strategy. Ha! You better test those waters before you go there if you have a ‘leader’ who tells you that.
Jim, I agree with your point about egotism. When ego gets involved, everything changes to a competition. Conversations become something people try to win, relationships are something to be dominated, control equates to victory. Egotists are interested in others’ viewpoints only to learn how to defeat them.
And, another lie probably is, “I don’t have a big ego.” Most leaders are confident, and confident people usually think well of themselves.
Couldn’t agree with you more Jim regarding being candid about a boss’s idea or strategy to his or her face. Unless you are the “Court Jester” be very careful traveling down this path. It’ll likely lead to a career incident.
I am in the throes of writing my magazine column on the dynamics of speaking up or remaining silent in the context of safety in an organization. If you are interested, check out the September 2003 issue of the “Journal of Management Studies” wherein the journal devoted the entire issue to speaking up.
Thanks for the tip on the 2003 issue, Jim. Tactical communication is one of my favorite studies. Clue me in to your column when it is completed.
I can count on one hand the executives and managers I worked with that actually wanted to hear an honest perspective. Most were infected with that I came to call the ‘warm fuzzy syndrome’. What they really wanted was feedback that gave them a ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling…reality be damned.
Totally agree. I like the phrase, ‘reality is our friend’.
Great List! Just heard some of these this week. And here are two new ones.
1. Everyone knows their role and how it impacts the success or failure of the company
2. Team building is for sissy’s
Tammy, I used to really struggle with #2, since my early experiences were with some pretty touchy-feely seminars. It wasn’t until I realized that the Army, my first love, was all about team building that I realized team-building itself is demanding and takes courage. The techniques sometimes are a little contrived, but the process is definitely not for sissys. And it’s not negotiable; when the team doesn’t work, no one succeeds. Great addition.
I give good feedback…….
Another lie…”I’m just being honest” as an excuse for being too blunt and delivering sensitive information too late or as a blind-side.
Numbers 5-8 I think are the most commonly done! As well as what Greg added. I know I’ve heard, “we want to make this reorganization so it doesn’t matter the person in the job.” I understand what the intent is supposed to be, but I think that the message is deeper – goes to the personal.
Since so many in leadership and management roles are afflicted with Narcissism here is another lie…
Everybody loves me because I am so good to them.
Even though it is a serious topic Dan, I was cracking up…my defense be humor and some were way to close to the bulls eye.
Everything I write is pithy and excellent…
I know better…
I know best…
#1 is so dangerously funny and we can keep improving on because we often do have to tweak the work. How we tactfully do it shows the continuum of leadership…good, great…and not so much.
I think the tweaking thing actually is a deeper problem, because of two factors: It diverts leadership effort and energy into details, and it demonstrates an inability to recognize that good enough right now is a lot better than perfect too late.
By the way, everything you write is pithy and excellent. But I think I’m probably the one who really knows best. 😉
I agree with Greg Doc. I don’t remember ever seeing anything but excellent writing from you. You also helped me personally by making me walk around with a dictionary in my pocket. 🙂
Geez guys, if this whole post weren’t about types of lies — lies, damn lies, and statistics.-Disraeli, I’d say my legs are much longer, quit pullin.
“I always tell the truth. Even when I lie”–Al Pacino
“I’ll make sure I read it today.” Ok, that’s me.
Lol, me too.
Dan, I like your list. I’ll add from a different dimension – the family. The lie is: “I’m providing a better life for my family so its okay I’m not there as much.”
How about this: “I’m so smart that I don’t need to surround myself with people who know more about the industry than I do.” Clearly someone who is insecure….
Dan, great list, prompting great discussion. I tell my kids the best lies we tell we tell ourselves. When they figure out what I mean by that it isn’t quite as funny, nor is it intended to be. When we create our world to suit our view of reality we compromise our success and effectiveness as a leader. Self-awareness and a willingness to own all of ourselves…yes, even those black little gnarly places we don’t want anyone to see. The best leaders I know have done the best job at becoming fully human by owning and talking about those gnarly places from time to time.
Oh, and one of my favorite lies from my friends with strong personalities….”It is more important to be right than be effective.”
Thanks, Dan, and all the rest of the commenters…good day.
What lie did I forget?
“The rules don’t apply to me.” Not to say that leaders don’t get some “extras” or “perks” (more pay, different benefit structure, etc.) but when leaders flaunt “exceptions” because they “deserve” them their followers’ respect for them is likely to erode rapidly (maybe not overtly, but rapidly).
Which lies are most dangerous?
The ones that are out of touch with reality, such as “We have been on top for three years; nothing can touch us now!” and “It has always worked to do [blank] – no sense in tweaking it now.”
Nice post Dan.
Another lie I have experienced “leaders” say is the classic “do what I say, not what I do.” This statement brings about the person not leading by example because they have no clue what the example is.
Great list. I’d only add “They don’t know it when I’m lying.”
Only a fool can be fooled.
In response to people being mostly focused on themselves I would like to make a plea for understanding the impact of mirror neurons in relationships. We DO react to each other and being mad, sad, or glad does have its impact on others. So, thinking in terms of systems and interactions is really the way to go. We KNOW how to push each others buttons and the denier pattern would lead to saying “Who me? Nah, I didn’t have anything to do with anything.” Anthropologist Gregory Bateson said it best, “our language forces us to think in separations, “individuals-in-interaction” is really one word.”
This blog has sparked some great discussion. Thanks
Sylvia Lafair, author “Don’t Bring It to Work”
Dang, the comments are equally as good as the column. Thanks.
I’d say #5 “Everything depends on me.” is the deep seated micromanager motivation. Trust and humility go a long way to get over this; it’s just too bad we have to be older to realize it. So much wasted energy….
Outstanding post, Dan. Sadly, this is too often true in today’s workforce. One of my pet peeves is the leader who says, “I can do any job in this building.”
Really? Then what do you need the experts surrounding you?
Good read. Anybody posting here taken a look at “Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty” by Patrick Lencioni?
I absolutely love Lencioni’s book! It’s a must read. Thanks for mentioning it.
Fabulous list and comments! Kudos to all of you transparent leaders. I have sat under many leaders I WISH had exposed themselves to these leadership concepts! Fortunately, they were simply stepping stones to teach me what NOT TO DO as a leader! I would like to suggest a book that totally transformed my VERY Type A pastor/husband: “Leadership and Self Deception” was the most telling book he’s ever read. I could totally kiss the author! I dont consider myself as Type A, but I read it anyway to help myself understand those Type A’s I will come in contact with as a leader. I have no connections to the author or publisher whatsoever, but THIS BOOK IS A MUST READ FOR ALL LEADERS! It is business based, but we were able to use the lessons taught in the church we pastor as well as in our secular businesses. Highly recommended!
Celina Gleason, Real Estate Broker;
Pastor’s Wife, Singer, Conference Speaker
State Ladies Leader (SC District UPCI)
Over the years I’ve heard it said that “This company is my babe or this company is my life. Its a lie that may sound good on the surface but fallsl short of the true objective. The people I’ve heard make these statements are so much about the company they have forgotten the people. I’ve always held the opinion that in order for any company or leader to be successful he or she should be about the people. Helping people to realize their own worth and potential and how to live up to that potential to me is the difference between being just a manger and being a leader.
People don’t take jobs that come with a contractual vow of poverty or to just make ends meet. The go to work for the same reasons the people start company’s, to eventually make a profit. Sometimes its the job of a leader to help them to realize just what the profit is. Not everything is measured in dollars and cent’s. Knowledge and becoming more self aware of just what your capable of makes better employees. That is the true currency that build companies and leaders.
Take care of your people and they’ll take care of your company. To take the attitude that the company is all is truly missing the mark.
Excellent post, Dan – always enjoy reading your blog, but this is particularly important.
Readers might want to check out a really good book in this field – on the role of self-deception in decision-making:
“Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It.” Max H. Bazerman & Ann E. Tenbrunsel (2011) Princeton University Press: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9390.html
I have no affiliation with or link to the authors but am a leadership researcher and I am just really puzzled by this tendency eaders have towards the comfort of self-deception.
Hi Dr. Jameson,
I always appreciate it when someone extends the conversation by adding insightful comments and resources.
Dan…love your list and suggest maybe one additional lie that leaders believe – I hear it almost daily:
11. I’ve communicated that already!
Nice one. thanks
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Another one for inclusion?
“We’re from Head Office, we’re here to help you” How many times has that turned out to be ‘help’ you could have done without!
I think that organisations constantly struggle to riconciliate the gap between their “espoused” values (declarations, or what we would strive to pursue) and values-in-use (real actions and behaviours). Very often the two are at conflict (e.g. people are our most important asset – yet we make 50% of our workforce redundant each year) and perhaps lies are a good coping mechanism to make sense of such conflict. I have not read it, but am told that the Neurotic Organization, written by DeVries and Miller, covers the topic of contradictions in detail.
I also think that other factors, such as an undeveloped self-awareness, may also contribute to creating a “lying” mindset.
Great list. Must of heard all of these from time to time. However the one that really presses my panic button is “my team manage themselves”. It may be the ultimate challenge to achieve but I’ve commonly heard it from the weakest managers.
I hear a combination of #6 and 7 very often: I consulted my staff carefully before designing (or at least implementing) these new changes. I had a boss who asked me to organize consultations with staff. When I presented the results, including major issues they had shared, he responded that he hadn’t heard anything he didn’t already know and he proceeded with the changes the way he had envisioned them!
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I think this is especially dangerous. “Look how s/he does it. I’m just the opposite.” This is dangerous because un-admitted behavior can’t be examined, thus changed.
I would add the dated lie usually said to someone trying to develop themselves “I have never read a book and its not done me any harm.”