Leading a lying employee is never fun because while it’s really obvious from some people, children for example, some adults are quite skilled and quite crafty in how they cover the truth. What does a leader do when an employee lies? How do you get to the real truth and lead them past this type of behavior? Or do you even try and simply continue to extend the rope with which they will eventually figuratively hang themselves? These questions and three succinct answers are found in this week’s Monday Moment on how to lead an employee who’s lying.
Avoid Taking it Personally
Those who prefer to craft a convenient truth are protecting themselves. Very rarely does the lie have much to do with you at all. An employee who lies is likely, more often than not, deflecting what they fear would be your reaction if they, instead, told the truth. They are covering what could likely create a conflict or erupt into some kind of disciplinary action or angry reaction from you, the leader, manager, or boss. While there are those who seek ways to get their leader in trouble, it is far more rare than we might realize. The employee who lies has usually learned that they have the ability to fix the issue, and thus can lie about the answer now, believing they can make it into a truth by the time you figure it out, or has learned that nothing will really happen to them if they flat out lie right now. Take that personally and assume the lying behavior has anything to do with your leadership skills, your leadership style, how much or how little they respect you as the leader, is a recipe for disastrous labels and emotional reactions that will prevent you from actually addressing the original behavior. In order to do that, it is important to…
When taking someone else’s behavior personally and interpreting it to be malicious in its intent, it is exceptionally difficult to stay calm and rational. Keep your perspective. In other words, Keep Calm and Carry On, as the queen might say. Yes, they lied. Yes, you could assume it was on purpose, it was meant to make you mad, it caused you some embarrassment, maybe even get fussed at yourself, and created a change in how you will now address them, but its valuable information. Stay calm. In most cases, the reality is no one will have died because of the lie. Yes, it’s inconvenient and yes, it now perhaps add to your already lengthy “things to lead” list, but it’s simply an action from an employee that now needs your attention. Leaders who remain objective, calm, and rational, in light of this new insight and behavior, are far more effective in managing to address the behavior. This usually begins with a few questions. Have they violated your trust? Is the lie something you personally witnessed or something you suspect? Did you make decisions based on the lie that you now need to undo? And finally, has the employee violated a performance standard or guideline that now needs to be written up, coached, or placed in his or her file? Often a lie is not a direct violation of a policy, because leaders assume that lying is a behavior that would not come forth in the workplace. Without a policy that addresses this issue directly, it will now be necessary to determine what performance has been impacted by the lie and address the performance. To do that, one will need to begin to …
If you’re leading an employee who is lying, finding the truth can be tricky business. The truth consists of whether or not that employee actually lied directly or committed a lie by omission. Did they lie on purpose or forget information innocently? Are they telling a white lie to protect someone with valid reason? If you’ve ever been the leader who felt lied to, these questions are likely those that danced around in your head. Yet, before taking action you have to be clear about just what this employee said, and didn’t say, did and didn’t do. Gathering evidence to support your belief is up to you. You could confront them directly and risk further emotional explosion. You could objectively observe their actions and see what happens. Or you could go fishing, so to speak, with a series of confirmations and varying baits to see what takes. Any method used to gather more substantial evidence may seem subversive, but depending on the nature of the lie, each may also have an appropriate place in this case. The important fact is that you will need substantive evidence before being able to effectively coach or counsel or discipline the employee. In other words, if an employee lies and you are their leader, you will need to do a bit more work before you can effectively work with them on the value of telling the truth in the future….even if you’re going to invite them to practice their truth telling skills with another company.
No one likes to be lied to, ever. The same is likely true for leading a liar. No leader likes to spend their time uncovering the truth or finding the real reason behind the behavior, unless they moonlight as a detective. People lie for their own reasons. People lead for reasons of developing team members. Part of your development of those team members telling you less than the truth is calmly, systematically, and objectively finding enough data that supports what you then must do about their behavior.