Liar liar, entrepreneur on fire

I am still getting over Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s decision to tell the Australian public that sometimes he doesn’t quite tell the whole truth – what an extraordinary gaffe.

There’s not much left to say on Phony Tony’s tattered credibility, except to point out that many have been waiting for Abbott to say something utterly ridiculous, and he didn’t disappoint. Labor won’t let him forget it before the election either.

Of course, plenty have pointed out that it is ironic that Abbott has been shot down for actually telling the truth and this got me thinking – are there times in life, in leadership and business when lying in some form is actually necessary?

Every successful entrepreneur I know would say that honesty, integrity, credibility and trustworthiness are among their most important characteristics, and in most cases it’s true.

But I can still think of times when everyone of them has lied. Here are three examples you might have come across:

  • “That’s great work, your proposal/idea/story is the favourite to get implemented.” A line often trotted out to employees to keep them focussed and working hard on an on-going project. Of course their proposal/idea/story isn’t really the favourite one, but this lie acts as encouragement and positive reinforcement.
  • “Interesting idea chairman, we’ll investigate it right away.” How many times has your ideas- filled board of directors or your boss come up with what they think is a great idea, but what you think is a stinker? A quick diverting lie is better than telling them directly that you won’t waste your time.
  • “Of course we can do that.” Often used on a client to clinch a deal. Perhaps they want a product or service that you’ve never actually provided before, or a solution that you think can provide but don’t know for sure. The client wants an answer, you want the deal, and so out slips the little white lie.

You could argue that lies like this are relatively harmless (except for the last one – it can be very dangerous when you overpromise and under-deliver) but they are commonplace.

This raises some questions that I would like to pose to the SmartCompany community. Is there a subtle art to lying in business that entrepreneurs need to master? Or is total honesty always the best policy, particularly if you don’t want to avoid troubles down the track?

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer, but I would love to hear your thoughts, and perhaps some more examples of the common fibs that entrepreneurs use in business.

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