To Tell The Truth: Women Leaders Create A Workplace Culture of Honesty

Creating a culture of honesty can erase the normalization of lying at work. In the era of fake news, denials of facts in the face of evidence, and a culture comfortably morphing from the acceptance of truthiness to outright lies, how do you create a workplace of honesty and transparency?The answer is from the top. As well as from the bottom up and throughout the organization.It’s ironic that in this environment, that ABC-TV recently brought back the 1950s game show, “To Tell The Truth.” This new version starring Anthony Anderson is perhaps in response to the proliferation of lies prevalent from business to media and culture. Except lying in business is not all that funny.[bctt tweet=“Creating a culture of honesty can erase the normalization of lying at work #LeadFromWithin” username=“takeleadwomen”]Lying is not just a minor problem of ethics, it is a costly assault on business profitability. From the recent meltdowns at Wells Fargo, Theranos and Volkswagen— now with criminal charges—to an occasional boosted taxi receipt or swipe of a handful of pens from the supply cabinet, dishonesty and lying can do an organization irreparable harm.“Most of us are now familiar with the toxic sales culture at Wells Fargo in which bank branch employees were pressured to open more than 2 million bogus customer accounts, driven by a financial incentive system run amok,” writes Stan Silverman, former president and CEO of PQ Corp. and vice chairman of the board of trustees of Drexel University, in BizJournals.According to new research from Coventry University in the United Kingdom, we are in an age of the “‘normalization of corruption’ and the ‘normalization of lying.‘” Researchers Sarah Jenkins and Rick Delbridge discovered, “lying becomes institutionalized, rationalized and socialized into the structure and culture of an organization such that it becomes embedded, maintained and strengthened over time as a legitimate and integral part of the job.”This new study examines “workplace deception which is not so much concerned with individual employee motives for lying but the way lying becomes woven into the fabric of specific workplace and occupational cultures, i.e. the organizational context and social relationships of lying,” Jenkins and Delbridge write.The study found that not only normalizing deception, but rationalizing it, happens in the workplace culture with bottom-up reinforcement from peers, as well as top down praise. In this study, one company aimed to lie to clients and it was rewarded by both men and women leaders.“Some employees clearly articulated how they engaged in deceiving the customers of their clients and were open and honest about their dishonesty. Rather than attributing blame or labeling individuals ‘morally dubious’, we would highlight that the study raises questions about the ethical implications of organizations that require their employees to deceive. While the organization in our study was widely held to be a ‘good employer’, the fact that managers created the spaces for employees to deceive meant that the boundaries and limits to deception could not be controlled.” According to the Coventry study.Yet, there is backlash to these examples of toxic culture and normalization of deception, moving to mandate transparent workplace and organizational cultures of honesty and integrity.“More and more people are demanding more truth and less spin in their workplace cultures. They want to know how the company is really doing, what their bosses really think and whether they should be checking out the job market,” Liz Ryan writes in Forbes.Creating a transparent and honest culture means you also have to root out the inauthentic and the outright falsehoods. So how to you discern dishonesty, discourage it and most importantly, never dip into it as a leader?[bctt tweet=“Creating a transparent & honest culture means rooting out the inauthentic #HonestLeadership” username=“takeleadwomen”]Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, an executive coach, consultant, and author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead, says being able to discern when an employee, colleague or client is not telling the truth is essential in management.“People may tell you the (literal) truth. If your boss says, ‘I’m thinking of recommending you for the position,’ that’s exactly what she means. She hasn’t said she did recommend you. She hasn’t said she will recommend you. All she said is that she’s thinking about doing so. If a colleague states, ‘That’s all I can tell you,’ believe him. He can’t or won’t tell you more… but remember, that doesn’t mean this is all he knows,” Goman writes in Troy Media.“People’s choice of words often reveals more about them than they realize. When describing a situation, truthful people tend to use assertive, unambiguous words such as steal, cheat, forge. Liars use softer words like borrow, mistake, omit to minimize the act. A liar’s language also tends to become awkwardly formal and stilted, characterized especially by the avoidance of commonly used contractions,” according to Goman.She continues, “Liars may even go into attack mode and try to impeach your credibility or competence with statements meant to put you off-track or even to intimidate: ‘Why are you wasting my time with this stuff?’ or ‘Do you know how long I’ve been doing this job?’”As women leaders in charge of hiring, seeing that deliberately receiving misinformation from the very beginning with an employee, may can only get worse.Lisa Gallagher, Vice President of Operations for HireRight, writes in CareerBuilder, “With every passing year, pre-employment screening becomes more professional, more extensive, more ubiquitous, and yet job applicants often don’t seem to get it. They fudge, dissemble and outright lie in new and unique ways on their resumes and background check applications with increasingly poor results. Aggregate HireRight screening data reveals that over 30 percent of all application forms contain discrepancies about work experience or education history, demonstrating the lengths to which some applicants will go to land the job.”According to Gallagher, “Lying on job applications, if not downright fraud, at the very least provides reason to question an applicant’s character. With professional background screening best practices in place, employers can ensure they make the right hiring decision the first time.”Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, has given a TED Talk, “How to Spot a Liar,” and is the founder of Calibrate, a deception-detection training company.Speaking to Jessica Powell at, Meyer said, “What’s important is not so much spotting lies but being able to get to the truth.” She added,  “An honest person will tell you a story with a beginning, middle and end. The main event you’re trying to find out about will usually be towards the middle, and the end will be an emotional comment on what’s happened.”Silverman writes in BizJournals, “In the words of renowned Brazilian novelist, Paulo Coelho, ‘If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule: Never lie to yourself.’ Leaders, remember this when one of the independent thinkers on your staff reminds you to face the brutal facts of your reality.”White lies, fibs, exaggeration, omission, overstatements, all these are untruths. These may be common, but they do not have to be universal. As an employee, you can be sure to be transparent and ethical, upfront about mistakes and a willingness to be straightforward. As women leaders, you can set the example, by rewarding honesty and creating an expectation of honesty throughout the organization. All women leaders need to create and sustain a culture of truth.[bctt tweet=“All women leaders need to create and sustain a culture of truth #WomenLeaders” username=“takeleadwomen”]Ryan writes in Forbes, “Finally, we can stop lying about things we care about. We can stop silencing ourselves when we have something important to say. It’s easy to say, ‘My managers need to be more trusting and more open,’ but we can’t blame our managers for being fearful, because all of us feel fear.”