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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

Keynote speaker

  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

When good employees lie you may be the cause

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

A white lie that has no real impact is perhaps acceptable...but what about a lie which, if everything goes "ok" doesn't matter (and you'd never even know) - but if it goes wrong, there is a lot of sorting out to do? Or worse - a lie about something where you could have provided the solution if told the truth?

People sometimes ask me about my book "Be a Great Manager Now", and it's questions like:

- Who are the good managers you have based the book on?

- Are you a great manager?

The answers to those two questions are - the book is through learning most from bad managers (including mistakes I have made myself), and through remembering to practice what I preach I am a great manager now...or at least I hope I am!

The return of Chess to the West End reminded me of an absolute "#classicfail" in my management when I was directing and producing the show in the early years of my theatre group - over a decade ago.  On the last night I saw the technnical director, the musical director, the choreographer and one of my best friends (also playing one of the leads) chatting together and I bounded up to them and said hello.  My interruption resulted in one of those awkward moments when the subject is changed and you just know you've walked in on something that you weren't supposed to.

Being outspoken I asked what was wrong, and kept badgering until the technical director finally admitted what happened.  It turned out the Musical Director thought he lost the mini disc supporting the orchestra and all of them had stayed up all night looking for it - and actually it was all ok because it hadn't been lost at all. 

Of course my immediate response was - but what if you didn't find it?!  What would we have done then? ...and did no-one realise I had a copy?  Their answer was they would have re-recorded what was needed from the original files, and it would have taken time but it would have been ok, and they hadn't told me the night before because they didn't want to worry me.

Perhaps what was closer to the truth was that they hadn't told me something so important because I would have made a fuss (probably unnecessarily) and after the number of previous "fusses" I'd made, it just wasn't worth the hassle when they had a solution.  It wasn't even an ideal solution...the actual ideal solution was that I had a copy anyway - but they chose not to ask for it.  

The technical director had even been as kind as to say they "...didn't want to worry me."

That story has stuck with me for a long time.  Prior to that - while still (luckily) being relatively popular (slow times perhaps!?) - my nickname was nonetheless Audrey "you  had one job!" Tang...because that was the phrase I used so constantly...preceeded by words denoting my controlling nature - "I'm doing all this and...".

"Chess" was the last time I ever managed a team with such a demanding attitude...and I'm both delighted and privileged to say that despite making yet more mistakes (of different sorts at least), I still manage much the same team today for my community theatre productions.

If you have a need to have the last word (even when you are all on the same page), or you need to remind yourself that you are in control or in charge by telling people what to do (although they are more than capable themselves), or you are just difficult to deal with because even if something has been sorted out you are still driven to apportion blame - good people will lie to you, even over things that might matter.

It might be something where you are even mistaken but it's not worth their while correcting you, or something where although they might have to cover it up or it might cost them in some way - they would prefer to suffer the loss than mention it because they just don't want the hassle.

Great - you may think - if people are sacrificing themselves for me, then I'm onto a winner...  The reality is:

1. Goodwill only lasts so long.  (Even in the most intense and longed for relationships where loyalty, guilt, investment and even love plays a part, eventually someone will let go)

2. Only the good people will make sacrifices that benefit you - treat the wrong person that way, and their lie may only benefit them.

It's the same for any relationship - parenting, intimate, friendship - as well as the working one.  If you want people to be honest, then be reasonable in your response.

Often this behaviour stems from a need for control so try the following:

1. Try to recognise and accept the competence of those in your team (if you picked them well, embrace their strengths rather than treat them as if they are trying to displace or disrespect you in any way. Nurture and applaud them rather than supress them).

2. If there is someone you do not trust, or a team member has broken your trust, either end that relationship, or build it again from a new standpoint but with a clean slate - continually punishing someone is unfair and will eventually destroy whatever is left.  

3.  Responding in an aggressive, or even inconsistent manner may result in people around you using their initiative to have an easy life, rather than get the job done with open lines of communication.  At best this may mean a job is done to a good (but not better) standard because they did not want to ask for assistance, or point out an error (and maybe even worked to fix it themselves at their own and possibly the project's cost), at worst those people will slowly slip from your side.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt


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