Never lie to someone who trusts you.
Never trust someone who lies to you.
“Truth is not truth” we recently heard on the news. “I do not recall” was recently heard in a Congressional hearing. The assault on the truth is in full swing in Washington, and across the land. The trust is also under assault in business where companies shade the truth to enhance the bottom line: raising the price of life-saving drugs by 500% when that pharmaceutical company has a virtual monopoly; signing up bank customers for credit cards they did not consent to; high tech companies compromising our data privacy. We live in a culture where lying is rampant and there appears to be virtually no accountability. The era of “the ends justify the means” is in full swing. We’re way past Enron, VW or BP. Our system is infected with the cancer of lying.
I never thought I would have to write a column about one of the most fundamental building blocks of integrity, trust, and dignity, but here we are. Put bluntly, lying is NOT OK! There are no legitimate justifications. It’s more than unethical. It is immoral. And the consequences of unchecked dishonesty are severe. As a nation, our integrity and self-confidence are being eroded, while our international credibility and standing are disappearing. In business, the prevalence of lying erodes trust in the workplace and among customers. For leaders who lie or shade the truth, there is a fundamental loss of respect and trust by the workforce. All of this adds up to a moral crisis that we must face head-on.
There is no quick “cure” for the cancer of lying. Telling the truth and acting with integrity is a conscious choice we each make in our lives, how we raise our families, and how we work with others. Some thoughts on how we can begin to heal the cancer include the following:
- Inside-Out: Our integrity is inherently based on our values and how we express them in our behaviors toward others; an ethical inventory enables us to review our value priorities and where truth-telling fits
- Moral Compass: We each need to know where our “Truth North” is, i.e. the ethical red line that we will not cross; where we will take a stand and say “no”
- A Policy Upholding Truth: Leadership needs to establish a policy and set of guidelines about truthful behavior—zero tolerance for lying—and then walk the talk
- Beyond a Code of Ethics: Companies need to go way beyond the Code of Ethics that hangs on the wall in the reception area. The truth and ethics need to be discussed at company or departmental meetings, in teams, and are used to make decisions
- A Practice of Accountability: People who cross the line or lie must be held accountable, no matter what title or position they hold; this is the fiduciary responsibility of the Board as well as senior leadership
If we are to begin to heal from the cancer of lying not only in our national culture but in our leadership cultures at work, each one of has an obligation to be clear that lying is not OK….ever.
*Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; he is an ICF certified executive coach, Lifetime Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, and best-selling author of Building Trust at the Speed of Change. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (919)265-9616