We spend a huge amount of time talking leadership, creating leaders, training leaders, developing leaders.

We list the skills of the leader, what we expect from our leaders and how we want them to behave. Leaders should be authentic, honest and transparent. Text-book leaders. Model leaders.

Plastic leaders?

The great leaders of history have character, a uniqueness, a singularity. A lot of them were a bit rough around the edges and often they were liars!

In his book ‘Leadership BS’ Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford University, tells us the average person lies at least twice a day. Ouch! He says that the truth about good leaders is that they are often really good liars!

The car industry leaders, routinely lied to us about emissions. Carillion lied about their solvency. Big-Pharma is often accused of holding back unfavourable drug trial results, which amounts to a lie.

Somebody told whopping lies about weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein told the truth, he didn’t have any. We were clearly lied to about Brexit and its ease-to-achieve and the overwhelming benefits.

We all tell lies. ‘Do these trousers make me look fat?’ Who is going to tell the truth!

An absolute moral rule to always tell the truth creates its own problems.

Immanuel Kant’s famous dilemma;

‘… what you should do, if someone running by with a weapon asks you if you have seen someone running away, just minutes ago and in what direction they were heading. Telling the truth might result in death, while lying may save a life….’ discuss!

‘Will this hurt?’ ‘How long have I got?’ Is a soft landing a lie? The truth is, the truth sometimes has to be nuanced.

Who remembers the Belgrano affair, during the Faulklands crisis?

President Roosevelt famously lied about the sinking of the Greer, to hide US involvement in WW2, when it was supposed to be neutral.

Kennedy lied about the U2 spy-plane. Russia lied over missiles in Cuba.

We lie when the stakes are high and that’s when leaders lie. Leaders lie about waiting lists, safe-staffing, finance, performance bullying and inspection.

They lie to give confidence, they lie to reassure. They lie when they dare not tell the truth.

They will lie to your face, that ‘you are doing a great job’, when they know and you know, you’re not. That’s a lie to give you breathing space, to regroup and try again. An innocent lie?

Leaders lie when they think it’s good for their organisation. They lie to the public that a new service or reorganisation is going to be better and ‘no, it has nothing to do with the money’.

Alas, lies are part of strategic deception, strategic lying, part of crafty-management-craft. Quite what the Kark review into the NHS Fit and Proper Person Test would make of it, heaven knows.

It seems to me he’s far from sure how to deal with the mess we’ve got!

‘All politicians lie’. No, they don’t. A lot do and pragmatism tells us to expect it from all of them. The people we trust to run the country are the group we trust the least.

Leaders lie and we forgive them because to do otherwise is to undermine the faith in the decisions we have made. We like to believe in the truth but sometimes we are too idealistic or too timid to call out the lie.

We live a lie when we persevere with targets and policies we know are impossible. We lie about what is achievable because the truth would be too brutal, too career limiting. We are bullied onto group lies, into saying yes, when we should say, no.

We all lie; when we cancel plans, we lie when we’re running late, lie when we know we will miss deadlines. We lie when someone says ‘how are you’, and we lie to preserve our kid’s innocence.

We lie to avoid an argument.

We say, ‘you’re looking good’ when you’re not and ‘the cooking was delicious’ when it wasn’t.

Some people lie about how much more money the NHS is getting in April and others lie about the achievability of policy.

The great enemy of the truth is not always a lie, it’s myth, persuasion and the lack of reality and we are often the innocent co-conspirators.

Liars invariably get found out but it’s worth adding the context; leaders are just people. People like us.

We can expect no more from them than we can expect from ourselves.

Have a good weekend.

Contact Roy – please use this e-address – roy.lilley@nhsmanagers.net
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Reproduced at TrainingPrimaryCare.com by kind permission of Roy Lilley.