Scott Thompson, the four months old CEO of Yahoo, was forced to resign because he lied on his resume. Worse, he lied about his lying and was found out. He denied that he inserted an extra degree into his resume, and then he blamed the recruiting firm he worked with for doing so. The recruiting firm, wanting to maintain their reputation, showed that it was Mr. Thompson who lied. Net result is that Mr. Thompson now has much more time to contemplate the efficacy of lying.
The question is, what are we willing to tolerate in our leaders’ behavior and reflectively in our own? Lying is bad. We’ve been told that ever since we were little. Or have we? Haven’t we also been told, “don’t say that, it will make them feel bad”, and there are such things as “white lies”, as compared to I guess black lies, which are bad.
So we have grown up with some sense of expediency in what we call lying. Why do people lie? Is it because there is a perception that one can get ahead faster by lying than by telling the truth? Why would someone who is already well credentialed and respected feel the need to embellish his or her story? Is it a basic human nature to try to appear more than we are?
Insecurities and fear that we are not as good or confident as we may appear to the world is a common trait. Almost everyone have self-doubts. Many years ago in a quote that is oft repeated, Sally Fields upon receiving her second Oscar in five years burst out saying, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” It shows that even performers who are on top of their game harbor great anxiety about their worthiness.
The way to deal with the uncertainty is to own that it is part of you and continue to forge ahead. Over the years as I climbed the proverbial corporate ladder I’ve had many occasions to witness self-serving lies from people in power. I also was there to see the crunching precipitous falls when they are found out. More than that I’ve found that telling the truth immediately have many advantages.
First it eliminated any chances that I will be found out inconveniently later and I already know the negative consequences of that. Even more so, it gave me a chance to deal with the situation as soon as possible to adjust and correct the issues. Equally important it helped to establish me as a reliable person in a quickly changing fashion industry.
I could be counted on to follow through on what I committed to – a good thing in a global world of shifting positions and unpredictable businesses. Were there times I was sorely tested where it seemed to be much simpler for me to lie, just this once? Yes, of course. But the real fear for me was how was that going to affect me long term. I’ve found it more relaxing to stay true to my principle and it also freed up all my brainpower and energy to deal directly with my business and life. In the long run, it has served me well.
In fact telling the uncomfortable truth helped me land my job as Vice President with Nike. When I was interviewing with Phil Knight, Nike’s CEO to develop and launch Nike’s retail stores strategy, he asked me how I would plan the project. He loved the overall vision and plan I developed for the stores and wanted to know when we could start. I hesitated. I knew that Nike’s apparel and accessories then were below the quality, style and performance standards of their shoes.
I wanted to work with Nike but I also felt compelled to tell the truth. So I told him that Nike cannot launch their retail stores yet if they were going to succeed. I explained how their apparel and accessories were substandard and would impact the Nike image and sell poorly. They will have to fix that first if they were going to be successful. Long pause and a quick ending to our conversation ensued.
Three agonizing weeks later I received a call from Mr. Knight. Come, fix the apparel and accessories and we’ll open stores after that. Telling the truth worked. I led the apparel and accessories division as the first Vice President of that division and brought them up to Nike’s standards. As they say, the rest is history.
“Tell the Truth” is one of my four Principles, which I use in my business and personal life. These Four Principles guide my work and all my interactions and they have been powerfully effectively in providing structure in organizations too. You can get access to the Principles on my website free as my gift to you. http://www.marilyntam.com/gift.aspx It is one way I can give back for how they have helped me achieve success and happiness. May you grow and flourish, and tell the truth!
Marilyn Tam is an international selling author, speaker, entrepreneur, humanitarian and former CEO of Aveda, President of Reebok Apparel Products & Retail Group and VP of Nike and the founder and Executive Director of Us Foundation.
Marilyn wrote her internationally selling books, “How to Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want” and “Living the Life of Your Dreams”, which won the Global eBook of the Year 2011 in the Inspirational/Visionary category. Her books and work have helped numerous companies and people globally. You can find out more about Marilyn on her website http://www.marilyntam.com/books.html and connect with her on facebook