Does telling your boss what he wants to hear, and not the truth, constitute a lie? – revised

Many cultures value the collective more than the individual. In such cultures, the harmony and cohesion of the collective are served by strong and powerful leaders. In cultures, authoritarian leadership is accepted, respected and deferred to. Whilst there may be complaints about excesses of authoritarian style, few would prefer the  lack of harmony which arises due to weak leadership.

Harmony and cohesion in such cultures are more valued that the accuracy of this or that factual detail.

In such cultures, it is acceptable that a boss be told in public what the boss wants to hear, even if this includes a few inaccurate facts. This is not considered a lie, because it serves a higher perceived truth, i.e., maintaining the position and face of he who maintains harmony around whom all are rallied, willingly or less so.

This position of the leader is “more important” than a few uncomfortable facts, which can and will  be relayed, but discretely.

“Do most people agree that most people believe that telling your boss what he wants to hear, and not the truth, constitutes a lie? Not a lie at all for some-rather the ultimate truth, harmony and a strong boss, can naturally be maintained by a few factual inaccuracies. Yes, for others, this is a bald lie, but not for all. A split jury.

OD and change-management types may find this type behaviour offensive. Indeed OD’s development  was rooted in anti-authoritarianism. However, OD ignores these cultural genetic codes to the detriment of our profession. Neither OD, change management nor a strong corporate culture can re engineer such deep genetic cultural codes.

So in the following case, is Wang lying? Art (US) asked his direct report Wang (China) “what does this quarter look like” in a con-call with 6 participants.  Wang said “looks good”. After the con-call, Wang called Art and told him that the quarter looked bad.

Wang has maintained the ultimate truth; he has avoided making his boss look bad. He did this by lying.


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7 thoughts on “Does telling your boss what he wants to hear, and not the truth, constitute a lie? – revised

  1. I’d be inclined to say that as long as the necessary, correct information reaches the decision maker(s) in some manner, it probably doesn’t really matter whether it’s in public or in private.

    • Well said. And I agree for this particular scenario, at short term.
      If Art likes this way, this kind of friendly lies might lead to a authoritarian culture at the end, especially, if Art is a rather a impulsive, egoist leader who might not embrace direct honest feedback even in private.

      Maybe this is why the W.H. seems to turn into authoritarian government?

  2. In the meeting scenario you painted though, maybe the boss finds out privately but everyone else at the meeting now has a false impression, which may impact their future decisions. I think the Indians have worked it out with the head wobble. Its neither yes or no but when you see it you know it its not so good 🙂

  3. Honesty is the best policy… Direct feedback without attachment creates relationship, passive agression only repeats the cycle of creating a culture of under performers who are afraid to speak their truth… Nurture open transparent coactive collaborative conscious corporations.

  4. Great post as always, you might want to advise Art on global leadership so he wouldn’t ask the question on a conference call to begin with…

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