One of the hardest lessons for leaders to learn is to tell the truth. What might seem obvious to anyone in leadership about the truth may not be easy to practice. Leaders are constantly involved in delicate matters whether in business, non-profits, or church. Some things we know are confidential and must be guarded while other things may call for discretion about with whom we share the information.
If knowledge is power then secret knowledge is even greater power. Knowing what to tell, when to tell it and to whom to tell it is crucial in any leader’s experience. A leader “knows” things that help him/her to lead. But knowing and telling something is not the same as not telling the truth. Withholding information may be necessary at times but lying has another dimension to it.
I have a friend who served on a church staff for years. After a pastoral change he met with the new pastor and was told that he was wanted and needed in his position for as long as he wanted to be at the church. The next week-end the new pastor introduced a new person to replace my friend. Promises broken are lies that destroy. No leader should ever lie and no leader who lies will last very long.
Why are we tempted to lie? Here are a few reasons I have experienced.
Fear– Whether we admit it or not, we do not like to make decisions and choices that hurt people, send them away, or distress them. Rather than telling the truth we often try to coat our words with assurances that we know will eventually not hold up. But it is tough to face a person or a group of people and tell the truth.
Pride-We do not want to be caught in failure, ignorance, or wrong. The lack of accountability can contribute to this but in the end it is pride that will fuel most lies. Leaders are by nature competitive, aggressive, and out front. When we fail or struggle we may feel our leadership is undermined and we might be vulnerable with critics or supporters. Lying seems the easiest way to cover failures or weaknesses.
Expectations-Every leader lives under a burden of expectations. Some are self-imposed and some can be imposed by boards, persons of influence, and assessments by which we are judged. Expectations can be factual or imagined but they are real in any case. When a leader is not meeting expectations, lying to make things look better than they are is a temptation.
There is a good rule of thumb for leaders when tempted to lie: don’t. Nothing ever comes to good from it.