Exaggerating the Truth: A Leader’s Folly

By | October 1, 2016

[October 1, 2016]  My wife and I were watching the most recent U.S. presidential debates the other night and she kept asking, rhetorically, why both candidates were exaggerating the truth.  Padded resumes, overstated professional credentials, misrepresentation of their career, etc. are unexpectedly common among people of all walks of life.  But … for the senior leader, it’s folly to believe they can escape the truth.

I was thinking along the same lines about our two main presidential candidates when I got a call from a long-time friend, retired U.S. Navy Admiral and successful CEO of a large medical supply firm in Atlanta, Georgia, who asked the same question but in a different way.  He’s a hard taskmaster for ferreting out the truth in people.  His past job as a navy submarine commander and current occupation producing medical supplies depends on the honesty of his subordinates.  Failure for him could mean the difference in life or death, disease and good health, profits and bankruptcy.

He wanted to know from me what I thought were the advantages of politicians exaggerating the truth.  For him, it was simply lying.  That was certainly an opening to explain and since I’ve got experience with a number of local, state, and federal politicians, I thought I could add some understanding for him.

But why politicians exaggerate is not the point here.  Although some say politicians do it because they’re narcissists, they know their followers will believe them, and there is little downside to exaggerations; so for them dishonesty is the best policy.  My friend’s question to me was “why would someone love and vote for either Clinton or Trump …” he asks, “when both are guilty of gross exaggerations?

Those who exaggerate can always claim their words were misinterpreted, distorted, twisted, or taken out of context.  When one exaggerates then it is a lie, whether they are ordinary folk or a leader.  Many will argue to the contrary but they are likely to have never been in a position of great responsibility or they are simply a political hack.

For leaders, their words and writings are likely to be checked against reality.  It’s difficult enough to be a leader and one of the reasons is that some people are motivated to tear them down.  That is the situation with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump; they will not be able to escape fact checkers.

The lesson for leaders is to never to say or do anything that is not totally honest.  Being an open leader is also helpful.  The truth never hurts as much as a lie or an exaggeration.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.