Leadership Lesson: no Lie can Live Forever

By | January 29, 2019

[January 29, 2019]  In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke before a large crowd in Selma, Alabama where he said: “no lie can live forever.”1  The speech marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement that was to force American politicians to accept that all citizens had the right to vote finally.  At the heart of MLK’s speech was a leadership lesson; that to lie is to destroy the dignity of people.

A few years ago, I told the story of my good friend Jane who lied on her application to be a U.S. Army officer.2  It was only a small lie; one that many would tell if given a chance.  Her indiscretions with alcohol at college were relatively minor, but she knowingly omitted it on the required military entrance forms.  When being considered for promotion to Brigadier General, her lies became known.  She was discharged shortly after that.

It is true, unfortunately, that political leaders have greater leeway about what they say than everyone else.  This doesn’t mean it is right or ethical.  Because a leader may be given more space to do wrong is no excuse to take advantage of it.  Lies travel fast.  And people remember those lies and loss of trustworthiness.

With our current computer and media technology, everything we say or do is likely to be recorded and accessed forever.  Just ask U.S. Congressman Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) how often people remind him about his lies on his military service in Vietnam.

More recently, a newly elected U.S. Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, lied on her Twitter account about U.S. foreign policy in Venezuela.3  See full posting below.  She claims there is a “US back coup in Venezuela…”  There is no such thing.  Also, she said, “Trump’s efforts to install a far-right opposition will only incite violence…”  Also not true.  Anyone who has paid attention to the problems of Venezuela knows better.  I’ve also written about the death spiral of Venezuela many times even before Trump was elected (see links here, here, here, and here).

Human greatness exists within our character and goodness.  Lies destroy trust.  Lies destroy the bond that is required for leaders (actually for everyone) to have a workable relationship with others and to succeed.  It matters not our position in any organization, team, family, or group; to lie will be forever and it will destroy you.

Someone once said that the only way to cover up a lie is to keep lying.  That’s what my grandmother Smith, “Bigmama,” told me and I believe her.  That’s a leadership lesson that has always existed.  Maybe some are just not paying attention to their grandmothers.

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  1. Reverend Martin Luther King speech on March 25, 1965. Also known as his “Our God is Marching On” speech.  “How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, you shall reap what you sow. How long? Not long … How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  It can be found in this YouTube video here (1:59 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=IIT0ra9-mTc
  2. https://www.theleadermaker.com/leaders-lie-will-follow-forever/
  3. A US backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face. Trump’s efforts to install a far right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region. We must support Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican’s efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue.” 7:46 PM, Jan 24, 2019 https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2019/01/shes-nuts-on-venezuela-too.php
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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.

25 thoughts on “Leadership Lesson: no Lie can Live Forever

  1. Jerome Smith

    Great topic and well-written article today, Gen. Satterfield. You keep our focus on those things that are important. Much appreciated. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Tracey Brockman

      As I noted at the time in my comments to Army Vet, I had a big laugh when I read about “Congressman” Blumenthal. If you cannot trust someone in the small things, how can you trust them with big things? Little Richard is not a good person. He needs to be reminded of it daily while he serves in a senior leader role. Those who don’t remind him, when given the opportunity, are themselves moral cowards.

      Reply
    2. Gil Johnson

      I will argue that nearly every politician at the national level cannot be trusted. Period. They don’t keep their promises when running for office and then lie to us by giving excuses (beyond their control, they sya) for not getting the job done. “Just re-elect me and I’ll fulfill my promises next time.” Hahahahaha They don’t fool me.

      Reply
    3. Eddie Ray Anderson,

      Good link. I recommend anyone who has not read Army Vet’s article to go back and do so. It’s full of some great info and takes a hard shot at those who lie, cheat, and steal.

      Reply
    4. Ronny Fisher

      I’m a huge fan of Army Vet. I wish he would write more for Gen. Satterfield’s blog.

      Reply
  2. Lady Hawk

    “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” – Abraham Lincoln

    Reply
  3. Dale Paul Fox

    Lying was the first (or was it the second) sin of man? Reading the Bible (a historical piece of literature) we find Adam lied to God about eating the apple. It’s easy to lie. It must be in our nature. To overcome the temptation, there must be something else that is more important.

    Reply
    1. Max Foster

      The simple answer is that he was persuaded by the serpent (the devil) that eating the apple would be to his benefit. That he would “become like God” if he ate it. Sadly, Adam believed this lie and chose to disobey God who told him not to eat it. This was the first sin and resulted in humanity falling from what we call Original Innocence.

      Reply
    2. Wilson Cox

      Thanks guys! The point is that it is easy to lie. Overcoming that urge is difficult. For some, it is impossible. Identifying the liar can be a challange but they will always be found out and treated appropriately. The problem is when leaders lie. When that happens, we are given a green light to also lie.

      Reply
      1. lydia truman

        Ways leaders encourage lying, sometimes inadvertently or purposefully, by:
        Placing people in ethical dilemmas that require them to make dishonorable choices.
        Creating overwhelming, unrealistic, or meaningless demands.
        Placing people at a significant disadvantage to others (e.g., students lying on grant applications, falsely declaring themselves a racial minority3, or getting ahead at a job4).
        Generating fear of reprisal in order to avoid conflict.

        Reply
  4. Army Captain

    Correct, the loss of trust and dignity are what is lost when a person lies. But it goes beyond these shortterm problems and lying, in my opinion, makes the person simply unlikable. People avoid the liar. That can create a spiral to MORE lying, not less.

    Reply
  5. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Excellent article today on one of those topics I regularly talk to my students and football players about. Lying is one of those difficult habits to overcome.

    Reply
    1. Eric Coda

      I’m sure it is difficult. Do you find any patterns in those that lie?

      Reply
    2. Mr. T.J. Asper

      Yes Eric. I find that those who lie; make poorer grades, are less likely to participate in sports, males, and those who come from economically poorer families. I don’t know why. That is up to the psychologists who study the phenomenon of lying.

      Reply
      1. Willie Shrumburger

        Thanks TJ. I see the same thing in the workplace. But because it’s a PC world, that big elephant in the room remains unattended.

        Reply
    3. Danny Burkholder

      Someone should write about this. Like when I see “teenagers” doing damage in downtown, they never show pictures, write about their race/ethnicity, etc. Despite giving a shout out to find them. How stupid does the media think we are?

      Reply

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