May 18, 2024

Small Business Advice

Leaders: Lying kills the trust you have worked hard to build

Jerry Osteryoung | 11/21/2016

"He who tells a lie is not sensible how great a task he undertakes; for he must invent twenty more to maintain that one."

~ Alexander Pope

Lying is not one of those topics people talk about often, but it has been a central theme in this year’s election. Lying is defined as making a false statement with the intent of deceiving the person receiving the information, and it can sink any business.

Trust is predicated on truth, and without trust, it is impossible for leadership to be effective. I have seen many businesses fail because management refused to tell the truth for whatever reason.

For most people, lying can be traced back to childhood – it seems to start before we can even talk. Most parents have to work hard at teaching their kids not to lie. I think we all can remember a time when the punishment for our bad behavior was worse when we lied about it than when we just told the truth.

Although this training makes sense, it just does not seem to stick once we have reached adulthood. Statistics show the average person lies at least twice a day, with 20% of people producing 80% of the lies. Further research by the University of Massachusetts found that 60% of adults could not have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once. The same study also found that 90% of people using online dating services lied on their profiles about who they really are.

Some people prefer to lie than to tell the truth. There are pathological liars out there who seem to prefer to lie for no apparent reason, but lying has many unpleasant consequences.

Firstly, there is the fact that people who lie generally have to create more lies to back up the original one. Whether you realize it or not, lying causes you to put up walls and live in a false reality, which requires constant effort to keep the facade from crumbling. All this takes you away from the present so you are unable to deal with the here and now. “Protecting” a lie can be exhausting.

Even small “white lies” have costs. For example, if your spouse asks you how he or she looks, most people will say they look great or beautiful regardless of how they really feel. However, lying – even about small things – creates a biological response that includes increased blood pressure, perspiration and pulse rate, which polygraph tests use to pinpoint lies with tremendous accuracy.

Furthermore, most people can spot a lie, and when they do, they lose confidence in you no matter how big or small the lie is. This is why one very successful entrepreneur swears that lying is the number one reason businesses fail. Once trust is lost, leadership cannot be effective.

As a leader, you just cannot have your staff not trust you and telling lies, no matter what the reason, is a sure way to kill the trust and your leadership.

Now go out and try to resist telling any lies, no matter how small they seem. It will make a tremendous difference in your life and your business.

You can do this!

Dr. Osteryoung has directly has assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is a bestseller on He can be reached by e-mail at

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