Years ago at a consulting gig I was participating in a telephone meeting. I had one other person in the room with me, and had only known her a couple of weeks.

being truthful

During the meeting, someone asked me a question about something that I didn’t remember doing, so I answered that I didn’t know. After the meeting, this same person and I were talking about something else, and she said that she’d never met anyone like me. When I asked what she meant, she said “Because you said ‘I don’t know’, and didn’t just give an answer you knew might be wrong.”

I thought about that at the time, then later on. An issue many workers say they have with management is that they don’t trust them to tell the truth about almost anything. Workers feel that managers are always hiding something, and looking for ways to “stick it to” them.

It's an interesting belief, and I have to admit that I know many managers who really are out to "get" an employee for whatever reason. Sometimes an employee makes a manager look bad, intentionally or not. However, we're on a different quest right now; can people trust their leaders to be honest with them?

When it comes to not being truthful, I think employees might have a point, to a degree. As managers or employers, we don’t feel as though we need to tell everything we know to employees, and we’re probably accurate. Sometimes there are very good reasons not to tell something, at least for a period of time.

I remember back many years ago when my organization was contemplating layoffs. Employees weren’t stupid, as they kept hearing how bad our financial performance had been for an extended period of time, and it was a question I had to field daily. I knew there were layoffs coming, though I didn’t know how many, or where, at least up until the day before. In times like that, you have to realize that your allegiance is to your peers, whether you agree with everything or not.

In the book Secrets Of The Millionaire Mindicon (the link with the light blue line denotes an affiliate link if you’d like to check out the book) by T. Harv Eker, he tells a tale of a plumber who happens to be a millionaire quite a few times over. This plumber has a few employees, none of whom know that he’s a millionaire. He purchases uniforms for everyone with his company logo on it, and wears the same uniform. He speaks just like they do, does the same things they do, and drives a regular car just like them. He doesn’t join a country club, go to fancy restaurants, or have a house screaming of opulence. When asked about this, he states “If my employees knew we were making that kind of money, they’d not only want big raises, but I’d probably lose most of them because they’d go out and start their own businesses.”

I don’t like to subscribe to the theory that I ever withheld information because it was in the best interest of my employees. Within my department at large, as long as it wasn’t personal information they wanted from me about me or anyone else, anything someone asked was answered as thoroughly as I could answer. I never worried that someone might know so much that they would end up taking my job; who really has time for that kind of thinking?

I told my department what our performance numbers were and how we got there. I told them when they did well, and I told them when they didn’t. I told them when I didn’t do well, but not as often when I did well. I told them when contracts with clients or payers weren’t proper, and I told them when other departments were making our jobs tougher to do.

When they saw bad performance in another employee and wanted to know what I was going to do about it, I would tell them that it wasn’t any of their business, unless they wanted me to tell everyone when I might have to discipline them. When they thought I wasn’t being consistent, I would point out things they themselves had done, and how I had treated them during those times; many times, they had no idea I even knew about those situations.

Why do some managers or employers lie, or not be as truthful as they should be, other than situations I’ve mentioned above? There are really only two reasons for deliberate diversion.

One, because they don’t really know what’s going on, and don’t want to admit it. Two, because they don’t want to share their knowledge with someone else, thinking that withholding information is job security.

When it’s the first, the person should be ashamed of themselves, and should do whatever they can to try to learn whatever it is they don’t know. When it’s the second, they’re sadly mistaken; withholding information means your employees aren’t as efficient and as educated as they should be, and if those above you are sharp, you’ll find yourself out the door for improper training processes.

I’ve always believed that you get what you give. People often know when you’re lying to them, especially if they see you on a daily basis. If you show that you don’t trust your employees, they won’t trust you, and they won’t work hard for you. They’ll never own up to making any errors, and if they discover something that could jeopardize the operation, they won’t tell you, because they’ll feel that you’ll either find a way to condemn them, as in blaming the messenger, or fix the problem and take full credit for it.

There are extraneous situations where you may not be able to be as forthcoming as possible, and if you explain yourself when those things come to light, all will be forgiven. The day the company I was working for at the time had layoffs, I met with every person in my department, none of whom were laid off, and told them what I knew, when I knew it, and why I couldn’t say anything about it until that moment. They all understood, and were all thankful that none of them had been relieved of their jobs.

If any of them had to go, I’d have handled it exactly the same way. These people went to great lengths to make me look good; I wouldn’t have wanted to give them anything less than they absolutely deserved.

The next time you go to work, think about what you might not be telling your employees that they may have the right to know, and share it with them. You may be surprised to find that they’ll actually be more helpful and supportive in the future.