Top 10 Lies Leaders Tell Themselves
Lies are told because they’re easier than the truth.
Lies are told to help or hurt. Leaders tell lies to protect those who can’t handle the truth or manipulate those who know too much.
The first lie I told at work was self-protective, most are. I told my boss I’d completed a project but I hadn’t.
The most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves.
You can always tell when you 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 crumbling the crackers they were standing in.
10 lies leaders tell themselves:
- People love it when I tweak their work.
- I assess myself accurately.
- I know how I’m perceived.
- Hiding weaknesses works.
- I don’t have a problem with arrogance.
- I’m a great listener.
- Sharing feelings makes me look weak.
- Telling enables. If they don’t get it the first time, say it louder and longer next time. Truth is, “Just do it,” only works in commercials.
- People who flatter me like me. Truth is they hate you.
- I’m over my last outburst means they are too.
I’m gathering material for a book on the lies leaders believe. I value your suggestions, stories, research, and ideas.
What’s the most common lie leaders tell themselves?
What’s the worst lie leaders tell themselves?
Some of this material was first published on “The Top Ten Lies Leaders Believe.”
As adults, ‘they’ should get this. ‘They’ don’t need any extra training, explanations, or time.
I think the biggest lie I tell myself is that I am a good listener. I still honestly believe I am. But I can tell by the results I get that is not the case!
‘They’ chose to get into this field of work as a career. ‘They’ should already know all the ins and outs.
‘They’ shouldn’t question anything; if I care about it, they’ll care about it.
Great stuff, Dan. Avoiding these lies leads to solid self-reflection, and a better chance to engage those we lead.
Let’s also remember to avoid some of the lies that often seem like self-reflection, but are really self-destructive:
1) I’m not doing a good enough job.
2) The staff disagreed with me, so clearly they don’t respect me.
3) That person’s compliment can’t be true.
Morning, Dan, good post.
It is very hard to choose a favorite from your list. :).
It’s also hard to think of additions…not!
“I know what I am doing, and I don’t need any help.”
“I can’t trust anyone with the ‘real’ me”
“People can’t see through my facade.”
“I have all the answers.”
“I know how to do ‘this’ better than people who have done it much longer.”
“i know how to fix ‘this’, if they’d only listen to me.”
“If I am charming enough, they will like me, think I know what I am doing.” (…and won’t think I’m such a freaking, arrogant airhead…sorry that was personal;)
“If I act respectable, even without giving respect, they will respect and honor me.
Any reasonable person can see that my way is the best way.
It is important that I keep reminding everyone of my path to success so they can follow in my footsteps.
All my former employees love us and appreciate the experience they got here.
Being brutally honest with my employees gives them permission to be the same way with me.
It is not necessary to give feedback on a job done well; doing the work well is their job.
People learn better if I just let them sink or swim.
People learn better if I sit next them watch their every move.
People appreciate that I’m so hard on them. They don’t take it personally.
This is great! Another red flag is the saying… “We are all adults here. There won’t be any misunderstandings of that magnitude.” Oh, really?
If “they” know I appreciate their hard work, why is it that “they” look so proud and amazed when I tell them ?
Love this topic. A few to add to your list:
1. The ends justify my means.
2. People aren’t afraid of me.
3. Our people can’t handle the truth.
4. She can’t handle the truth.
5. I can handle the truth.
I once worked with a client who I caught in several lies…I was brought in by her most powerful union on a breakthrough project. One day I was sitting outside her office waiting for a meeting and one of the project team members was inside talking to her. He, as it turned out, was her “spy” and he purposely attempted to disrupt the project. I could not help but overhear their conversation that day because the door was wide open and they were talking loudly. Probably the most dishonest thing I had ever been a party to.
Multiple times she would agree to something in a meeting with me and then immediately instruct a subordinate to do exactly the opposite.
Despite her attempts to hurt the project, it turned out to be the most successful project of its kind in the history of the organization.
Needless to say I never did work for her again.
Eventually, she left and people celebrated.
Hope this adds to your growing list of stories.
Fear is the dominate force in play in most organizations. And fear is fueled by varying levels of dishonestly.
I think most lies that leaders tell themselves (myself included) have to do with not being willing or able to take responsibility for our part in a situation.
My people trust me enough:
-I don’t need to keep them updated on long term strategic decisions.
-They will not worry about all the work they have already done. As long as they have a job.
-They will not notice that there is change coming (because the undercurrent is not there or anything) and they will just get nervous and spread rumors if I let them know what is on the table.
If I leave, the team will fall flat 🙂
Oh where to begin, my guess is by the end of today you’ll have the book!
I’m more deserving than them
I’m owed this job/ opportunity/ overseas trip/
It’s Ok for my juniors to work longer hours than me – they need to earn their way up
My partner understands why i am always late home
What a silly question, it’s not worth answering
I can do that, and that, and that, and…
In New Zealand there is a Beer campaign that has gone for many years which simply takes a ‘lie’ and concluded with the perrenial by line ‘Yeah Right’
it’s a good phrase to have in your mind when people are being less than honest.
Here’s one I heard recently. “I think I’m a good supervisor.”. That person is on paid leave right now for various reasons. He actually said this amongst a group of supervisors and I looked at him and so badly wanted to ask how he ever got that concept of himself. Self reflection is hard for anyone. He is the most despised supervisor because he believes he is in ultimate command. He rarely looks for feedback from his peers and subordinates.
Just like Anton said about “I’m a good listener.” I think another lie told is that, “I truly value people.” So many say that, but actions speak louder than words.
“I am being transparent and I will tell you everything that I am at liberty to tell you.”
Kind of an oxymoron!
Interesting article. I think most people think they are better listeners than what they actually are.
Excellent blog. Self-delusion is a major problem. Cognitive dissonance has a lot to answer for. You probably know, “Mistakes were made but not by me” (Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson). If not, it’s definitely worth a read. On a related subject, you might want to take a look at my blog on trust – a major issue in UK political and, sadly, public service managerial life. http://reputationstuff.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/tackling-the-biggest-elephant-in-the-room-the-problem-with-trust/
pointing the finger when things go wrong is such a bad management problem. I just checked out your blog and posted a comment on a previews post about reading. It does not seem like the comment showed up, can you check your spam?
I wish a great success for new book on why leaders lie. I appreciate and really like the statement- the one who flatters you really hate you. I never had serious thought over it. But when I think, it looks so true. Why people flatter is the great question. They flatter because you have capacity to influence their career and enhancement. It means they are concerned about their career, not yours. As long as they get what they want, they will flatter. As soon as, they get other powerful person, they stop flattering you and start flattering other person. I think the most common lie leaders tell themselves is hiding their weaknesses and reflecting their strength. The worst lie leaders tell themselves could be – they know everything. When leaders usually say, I know it before you stop, they might lie.
I think telling lie is good as long as it connects to your purpose. I also tell lie about my future plan. It questions me and in the process I work harder. Telling lie to help others without harming someone is good. Telling lie to gain your position on the cost of others career is necessarily evil and sin.
A lie leaders tell themselves:
My staff doesn’t need to know background information, just the instructions for their piece of job. They can’t be trusted/will misuse any additional information. I don’t need to be proactive about getting information into their hands – it’s right there in that newsletter I emailed them yesterday.
The lie is the idea that people don’t need to understand why their piece of the process matters in the long run; the additional lie is that it’s the followers’ responsibility to dig up the info they need (I think the followers should take responsibility, but the leader shouldn’t make it impossible).
Here’s the biggest one I can think of: “You’re doing this to me.” i.e., I’m a victim, you’re a villain (and not a human being), and on and on. The book, “Leadership and Self-Deception” rocked my world.
I couldn’t agree more with Rob’s “biggest lie” — “you’re wrong, I’m right” versus “this isn’t working, so what can I do differently?” or “this is happening to me, my company, my team” versus “I’m responsible for all the things that happen to me and have the power to change the outcome.” The lack of personal responsibility in leadership is most frequent AND the worst — because it teaches everyone around the leader to do the same, pass the buck, look for scapegoats, place blame and stand in righteousness instead of working to get it right.
Lots of good ideas here, supporting your interesting blog entry. A couple of my experiences.
I don’t need to worry about … ! I think there is a tendency to abdicate responsibilty for some functions rather than delegate, meaning that when things go off the rails you don’t find out till late.
It will take me longer to show someone how to do it, so I’ll do it myself! The classic won’t ever be able to let go syndrome!
The numbers are back end loaded but that’s OK. A typical ploy in the forecasting business. You are “on plan” early in the year, right up till you aren’t .. and of course you never hit the numbers!
Good luck pulling this all together.
Why aren’t they ready to change, I have been for a long time.
Why are they questioning me, I know best. It’s not time to change.
Good thing they don’t see when I make a mistake!
I know the work they do.
Corollary: And I know if they just got their (my) priorities straight, they could do more.
They don’t listen to me as well as I listen to them.
Great twisted fun for a Friday, Dan, thanks!
* I don’t have time to fully explain the background to subordinates.
* The details will iron themselves out. (that trick never works)
* There are some groups of people I can afford to ignore (actually I learned this in my company where every department is really respected, then was surprised to learn that this is not at all the case in every organization, where commercial people are viewed as the ‘most important’)
Are these really lies? Or just big mistakes and blunders. The line is between the two blurry as I read others’ comments
“What’s the most common lie leaders tell themselves?” — that all the stress they have means they work harder than anyone on their staff!
I watched an ineffective entrepreneur tell himself this for 8 years. He did the least, and least *effective* work of anyone on the staff. The business consistently did not grow or move ahead directly because of his actions. Within 2 years, he lost every good employee on his staff. Those who stayed were the ones who tolerated it in him and themselves.
A leader experiencing stress doesn’t mean they work harder or know more. In fact, it’s a good indication that they are in over their head and need coaching and mentoring to be able to handle it better! Working on themselves, unfortunately, is the last place they look.
Self-awareness and a willingness to grow separates the good leaders from the bad ones.
Here is my list:
1. I need to keep emotional distance from people.
2. If I had good boss everything would be fine.
3. If I had good employees everything would be fine.
4. For career advancement one has to kiss the boss’s rear.
5. People follow orders because, after all, I am the boss.
6. Everyone understands our priorities so there’s no need to harp on them.
7. No news is good news.
8. It’s up to my boss to manage our relationship.
9. Only I can, or should, handle the difficult tasks.
10. People hate work, so you have to keep a close eye on them.
I just had a training session on this Wednesday. Here are some of the responses gathered:
“I can solve all the issues and work in peace.”
“No one else has my issues.”
“I am a good communicator and give clear instructions.”
“I know best.”
“I can do it all.”
“Employees will do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.”
“If our intentions are good, we will make the right decisions.”
Thanks for your blog! I enjoy reading it each day.
In Latinamerica they use a lot “afraid is better than loved”. They think that by making people be afraid of them they will work better, when the results show the opposite.
I have found many managers over estimate their effectiveness and ability. Thinking they do and are the best when in fact they are not.
This is a great list to keep right next to your computer. Give it a look once and again, and check in with yourself. Thanks for posting!
Here is a lie: “I’m a leader so I don’t need to spend time developing myself to be a leader.”
I believe many leaders sabotage their effectiveness by convincing themselves that
1. everyone knows what is expected and where company emphasis is (must clarify roles for accountability)
2. Everyone feels appreciated and important (must take more time to recognioze desired behaviors and share thanks for people’s efforts)
Leadership is far more than identifying goals… Culutre (Building relationships and communicating) is far more important than strategy.
So true and yet so funny.
Leaders lie to themselves when they think they’re a leader but they’re not leading anything or anyone (even themselves).
Great topic! I just blogged a ‘leadership confessional’ last night about being a great leader and building into people – – – except if i don’t like you.
It’s amazing how easy it is to justify those my actions and responses, but it just doesn’t matter if the way I interact with a select few contradicts the way I say I interact with all.
Great post as always, Dan!
Wow – this is a great post. Lots of room for introspection.
I think some of the lies include:
People will believe my words even if my actions aren’t congruent.
I contribute so much that people shouldn’t question me.
It’s okay to always point out flaws and problems without suggesting solutions.
Thanks for this conversation.
I would add –
“People leave the organization because of better opportunities, to be closer to family, a new location, etc. not because the work environment here isn’t good.”
Thanks for this post, and all your others, Dan. I am a new(ish) fan.
If I didn’t intend the outcome of my actions, I’m not responsible for undermining your authority / creating uncertainty / add your own…
This is the way I like to work – everyone likes to work this way.
I don’t need to earn respect. I’m the boss. Respect is automatic.
If I attack the way the message is delivered, rather than the problem (something to do with me), nobody will notice.
I run my own business because it pays better than working for someone else. That’s what smart people do – work for themselves. Only people who lack the guts or know-how are employees. They are the little people.
Inconsistency keeps them guessing and helps me retain control.
I can provide strategic direction by providing a five minute suggestion brain-dump – even if it is largely out context, contradictory and hard to decipher what I mean.
When instructions backfire, you can always make it someone else’s fault by saying you didn’t expect to be taken literally.
Employees can’t handle large projects without my help and input.
People who sit at their desks the longest are the most productive and valuable employees.
“No one gave me anything in life, I earned it.” uh huh. How about the good fortune to be born in America and not, say, Rwanda?
“I want to hear if others disagree.”
“I can multi-task.” (Apparently the human brain is terrible at it.)
“All shareholders care about is that we keep increasing profits.” (They also want you keep it legal and ethical)
“I’m the decider!” (Your aides have already decided what they want you to decide and have thus screened the people you hear from and info you see and the choices you have to decide upon)
“Our best talent will leave if we don’t pay them a bazillion $ in bonuses” (Enough is a feast. At that level, they are not working for the extra money…people are motivated to work hard by other factors like autonomy & engagement.)
The following put up huge red flags for me:
“This place would fail without me.”
“I am a great communicator; they just don’t listen well.”
Any sentence about the organization being successful that begins with the word “I”.
While I have read through the comments posted, agreed with some, chuckled at others the biggest lie – I feel- that leaders tell themselves – ” I am not the problem”.
Thanks for the blog – can’t wait for the book!
I’m as good as I think I am.
I’m not as good as I’m supposed to be.
It’s not important if people like me, as long as they respect me.
It’s not important if people respect me, as long as they like me.
Lies…we want your input when we don’t.
I once worked for an organization in which we were required to complete endless surveys, but everyone knew the comments on the surveys weren’t anonymous even though the leadership claimed they were.
The leadership openly mocked comments made on the surveys in meetings.
Suggestions from surveys were never implemented.
Survey replies were absolutely demanded.
People feared filling out anything but straight top scores. They quickly learned the consequences of input.
BIG lie? We provide surveys to improve. When you really require surveys to claim (to the world) you ask for input, but honestlyare defensive about suggestions and use surveys to control.
Hi There – My favorites:
I never lie – ever, about anything.
People shouldn’t lie. umm reality?
A good one “the team don’t listen” or ” the team aren’t bright enough to get this stuff”. Really meaning, I am not communicating it properly.
Its just easier if I do it myself.
Closely related to. No one else will do it as well, nobody wants to help or is qualified, nobody cares as much to do it right.
it’s just easier if I do it this time, I’ll worry about training someone else after we get through this (insert crisis)
– The “Do what I say, not what I do” mentality is affective leadership.
– I am an “outside the box solution leader” until something truely comes outside the box, and I am not ready to hear it.
“I’m a great writer”
“Nothing significant has happened in this field since I left college”
“I can hide everything under the label ‘budget problems’ and no one will catch on”
“We should ask a consultant for help here and get some fresh insight” (which we will never use)
“I’m a straight talker” (No, you’re rude)
Good one, Karen! (“We should ask a consultant for help here and get some fresh insight” (which we will never use))
This one drives me crazy because it cost so much money that could be better spent by rewarding your own lower level staff just by ASKING them and making them feel part of top mgt decision-making w/ their ideas for improvement/new business/better service, how problems could be improved etc.
Very true. Rather than motivating some of us were i work, the company engaged the services of consultants and paid them huge amount.
In fact one of the consultants had to raise a team of 5 people from the members of staff to help him achieve his target. I was one of those he chose. We reported to him while still under another boss.
Despite all the recommendations, management never implemented any of the work done at the end of his work.
Such a waste!
Question is why do you pay for services you don’t use?
Just found your reply Solomon (years later!) … but also just read a story about how an auto company , under new ownership/management, took the EXACT same employees that the previous owners claimed were unmotivated and only let them do one, repetitive job (which they got so bored w/ they did sloppily) … new mgt asked for ideas/imput/suggestions –which they LISTENED to /implemented and productivity/profits soared! They didn’t need consultants, they just needed to consult the true experts…the people doing the work! (I think I read it in The Organized Mind and I think it was a Toyota factory that instituted the improvements.)
Great list! So many of the lies have to do with thinking to highly of ourselves, which is interesting! I wrote on humility a few days ago. But sometimes it’s easier to write about than to live! Haha!
Worst lie I’ve ever seen- “our company is the best and our employees are lucky to be working for us.” It motivated some seriously bad decisions.
The worst I’ve seen is “if they know what kind of pressure I’m under, they will be more motivated”.
I look forward to your book. I recently read “Leadership and Self-Deception” by The Arbinger Institute. Interesting book aligned with your idea for a new book.
Another great one Dan. Some of these may have already been mentioned, but I would add:
1. I DESERVE this —— (role/title/co
2. Stakeholders exist to serve me
3. My ego or pride is not a problem
4. Everybody else is wrong
5. Leadership is anything other than serving stakeholders
Looking forward to the book!
“I’m worth it.”
Executive leadership compensation seems to lack a coherent model that links reward to performance.
Indicative of vanity at the top table.
Thanks Dan. This is great. My last boss had no humility or gratitude. Just greed. It was amazing to watch. I don’t believe she even knew what those two words meant. Also, very “two-faced”. The lie would be thinking that everyone liked her and believed all the BS she would say.
The arrogance was glaring. That company and that boss inspired me to start The CARE Movement. It was a blessing in disguise. Another obstacle that became an opportunity.
Thanks again Dan. Hope you are in good health.
Biggest Lie: I need to be the most impressive and innovative person in the room. (Told this one to myself even as I was writing this comment…)
Worst Lie: I need to (and have the ability to) work out my problems on my own. After all, everybody else’s problems are much more difficult and pressing.
The latter is probably the biggest reason for a leader’s decline because it related directly to pride.
I can do this on my own…
If I read enough I can get far enough…
People are a simple resource to be mined to make me successful…
I have finally arrived…
I have earned the right to be heard by all
“I’m a leader.”
“The end justifies the means” – e.g. We need this restructure for the good of the company.
If you can’t do something morally, humanely and with compassion then it cannot be justified by any result.
If you ever compromise your principles to the point where you need to construct justification for your actions then you should probably give up being a leader.
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I learned a great deal from an ex boss, he did however, have two rather irritating, reoccurring sayings:
“We tried doing that five years ago and it didn’t work.” – When he didn’t like an idea that was being suggested.
“We don’t do it that way here.” – Whenever changing a system or process was being proposed.
just to add a few;
1. I know more than my subordinates
2. I’ve paid my dues
3. I should know better, i thought others
4. Management recognizes my effort & input.
5. I don’t repeat same mistake.
6. I’ve got team-playing qualities.
7. My awards speaks for me.
“People are here because they like what I’m doing.” The reality may be because they either don’t have any other place to go or they just don’t have the courage to leave, yet.
“I do a good job of recognizing my subordinates hard work/ accomplishments.” I think this is the most common lie we tell ourselves as leaders.
Nobody could do as good a job as I will do, so I’ll just do it myself.
Ones I come across most often:
“If I have sent out a message, I have communicated”
“If I am OK with this change, others will be too”
“Asking why is what troublesome people do”
“If I’m a leader I need to have the answers”
And the worst? Possibly the last on my list. These people create armies of disengaged and frustrated contributors who can see that the wheel is going to fall off and take pleasure in being proved right.
Great Blog, I just subscribed to you, and am glad I did!