Authentic leadership and “little white lies”

We’ve all told a “little white lie” I’m sure. No harm is done. Or is it? By telling “little white lies” we usually believe we are protecting the person we’re lying to, or in some cases protecting ourselves.

It might be your new employee who delivers their first report to you and even though it isn’t exactly how you prefer a report to be, you say “thank you, it’s terrific” because it is their first month in their new role, and you forgot to give them your preferred format.

Or you’re in a new role yourself at a new company. Your new boss, the CEO, asks how your first week has been. To be perfectly honest, it’s been pretty dreadful. Your technology wasn’t ready, there was no suggested induction plan in terms of key people you should meet, and you haven’t even seen the division’s budget yet, even though you were told during the interview that it would be available on day one.

So what do you say? Tell him the truth (in a way that is assertive but not aggressive) or tell a little white lie because it feels uncomfortable to do otherwise?

We all know that big, bold lies are bad. The ones that ruin the lives of innocent people. But what about those little white lies?

I recently read an essay called “Lying” by Sam Harris. It’s fascinating. Here is a short extract from an interview with Sam Harris about this essay.

“When you’re lying, you’re constantly playing this game where you’re having to keep track of what you said, and it’s the antithesis of integrity and openness and authenticity. When you’re pretending to be someone you’re not, you’re paying a price, even if it’s not obvious to you.

But not only does lying damage relationships with others, it discourages self-improvement.

When you give yourself the out of lying, you deny yourself the kinds of collisions with reality that are necessary to improve your life. A commitment to honesty is a kind of mirror that you hold up to yourself, where you can discover who you are in relationship to others, and in relationship to your moment-to-moment experience.”

So here’s the question. Do you hold yourself up to be a leader of integrity? An authentic leader? I certainly know that’s how I would like to be described by others. Next question … do you sometimes lie? If so, why?

It’s a fascinating mirror to hold up to yourself.

I’ve heard the phrase that temptation and deceit are close siblings. Harris suggests the same can be said of deception and lying. Allowing someone to believe that you were responsible for that new innovative idea, when it wasn’t you at all. That’s the shadowy darkness of deception. The freedom and lightness of honesty, without deception and without little white lies, is truly liberating.