On Lying to the Boss

I was recently asked, how much do people lie to their bosses, and what can be done about it?

I covered some of this in “Why the Boss is Always Wrong.”

I’m a coach to CEOs, and the CEO of a startup.

Lying to the boss happens constantly across organizations.

The one universal constant about lying: people do it to ‘manage’ or manipulate the boss’ reactions.

If you want to know what people are lying to you about, that’s easy. Just ask people what you react to the most negatively.

Blow up about bad customer service? Customer service problems will be hidden from you.

Shame people publicly about losing a sale? Elaborate stories will be invented to deflect your wrath.

That’s 75% of lying to the boss. The other 25% comes from people who got conditioned by some prior boss (or parent or teacher) to hide bad news, and they’re projecting that onto you.

You can overcome it, with time and patience. Here are your steps, with tips for getting your head straight:

  1. Get very good at thanking people sincerely for bringing you bad news. (Mindset question: would you have been better off if they hid this from you?) What you praise, you get more of. Put “candor” at the top of your list.
  2. Get very good at focusing on process — whether people step forward — over content — whether the news is good. (Mindset question: do you want people focused on what they cannot control right now — whether the news is good — or what they can control — whether they inform you?)
  3. Lead by example in embracing Radical Acceptance. No matter how bad the news, you react calmly and ask the key questions: What can we do now? How do we salvage the situation? When we try this again, what will we do differently?
  4. Never name, blame or shame anyone. Ever. (Mindset question: do I want to punish a person or do I want to achieve a better future outcome? I can only focus on one.) NOTE: This is not the same thing as not having consequences or avoiding accountability.
  5. Be first to blame yourself. The more you honestly embrace your contribution to a problem, the safer you make it for others to own up to theirs. (Mindset questions: if I went back far enough, everything is affected by my prior actions and decisions, so which decisions helped create this outcome? And, what behavior do I want to model for others?)

Summary — if you’re lied to a little, it’s par for the course.  Over time and with patience, you’ll train your people to quickly and easily tell you the truth.

If you’re lied to a lot, and you’re the CEO, then at some level you’re creating it.


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