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The lies of leadership ...Staff reflects principles seen at the top

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After looking at the headline, you don't need to read this column, right? In our post-Monicagate mania for morality, you are indignant that anyone would link "leadership" and "lies" in the same sentence. The only lie you have ever told was back in 1991 when a golfing soulmate asked your score on the 16th hole at Hickory Hills.

Let's take a break from our double-jointed exhaustion of patting ourselves on our ethical backs to consider two immutable principles: 1. sick leaders create sick organizations, and 2. staff will "reflect" what they see in at the top. If you agree with both of those statements let's talk.

Any position of leadership places you on stage. You scream messages without ever opening your mouth. Every move, verbal pause and rise by a millimeter of an eyebrow are studied by your staff. Before you have dropped that second cube of sugar in your morning coffee, the "buzz" is out about you today.

Dostoevsky wrote in "The Brothers Karamazov," "So long as man remains free, he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship."

That's right, worship. Pretty heady stuff. I know you don't want your employees to bow, genuflect and kiss your assets, but we all sure do want people to follow us. And following is the art of the deal in leadership. Come on, we only lead people who follow us; we drag the rest along for the ride.

So, here you are, a person bristling with personal power and piety to affect people and organizations, and I'm accusing you of lying. Well, (and this will make you feel better) our lies are often told in ignorance. I believe there are five lies most leaders have no idea they are regularly telling.

First lie, "I practice the open-door policy." Someone makes an appointment to see you only to find you are fully engaged in a telephone conversation, dictating 13 letters, filling out your time-planner in four different color pens or up to your earlobes in budget figures. The immediate message is: the open-door person is an intrusion in your busy life.

If you want to kill this lie, open the door and turn off the rest of your world. I am suggesting that you advertise specific times when you will be available for appointments and then personally meet the person, at the door, with nothing in your hands saying (non-verbally), "I am here to listen to you."

Second lie, "Tell her I am in a meeting." If you want to tell someone "no," or "I think you are a jerk" or "take a flying leap," try some appropriate honesty like, "Thanks for your proposal, but I am not interested."

Consider this, what is the message to the rest of your staff when you ask an administrative assistant to habitually lie for you?

Third lie, "I don't want any surprises tell me the whole story." Really? Have you ever shot the messenger because you did not like the message which included the "whole story"?

Are you willing to keep a staff person who doesn't agree with your decision? Can you listen, in a staff meeting, to someone criticize the progress of one of your initiatives? Will you continue to be respectful of an underling who questions your commitment to racial and ethnic diversity?

Fourth lie, "I will get back to you on that." Sure, you are busier than a Yahoo programmer, but when you do not deliver on promises, however small, your staff begins to lose trust. This is real simple: don't make promises you probably cannot keep.

Fifth lie, "Our best asset is our people." Here is the five-Kleenex-weeper of all lies. If you want to tap into the wellhead of all fuzzy feelings in the workplace, whip this one out.

If your best asset is your staff, do you consult them, empower them, educate them, trust them, listen to them and share the profits with them? If this lie can be turned into a truth, your organization will discover unlimited potential.

So, what do you think? Have you been doing any lying around on the job lately?

(Dr. Cal LeMon solves organizational problems with customized training and consulting. His company, The Executive Edge, can be contacted at his Web site,

by phone at 889-4040 or e-mail at callemon@aol.)

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