Why Do We Lie, Hide, and Fake?

When I graduated from college many years ago, I started my first job at Standard & Poor’s as an economist. I was not the most skilled at economics, but I worked hard. I remember being thrilled when I was “promoted” to be the client “liaison.” We provided economic forecast data that had real implications for large Fortune 100 companies, deciding things such as how many cars they would build or how many people they would hire. If they had questions on the data or model, I would be the first person to answer them.

After getting instructions on the role, I held my first client call feeling scared I would mess it up. I hung up the phone thinking I had no clue if my answers were the right ones or what to do with the information. Yet I shared this with nobody – I was scared that if anyone knew how little I knew, they would take away my new role. I told myself I would just figure it out. I went through months of being stressed out and it got worse. I was scared someone would join me on a call and be appalled at how I answered the client’s questions. I can look back now and see clearly that had I spoken about my fears, doubts and questions, my bosses would have absolutely helped me learn faster. I shudder to think of the implications some of my answers might have had on decisions our clients made that had real consequences.

That example was just one of my patterns that I have struggled with over my career with a behavioral habit that we call “Lying, Hiding, Faking” (LHF) at Next Jump. Now that I am in a senior leadership role, I have realized that as you move up and take on more responsibility as a leader, it becomes harder to avoid LHF because you have more to lose. I have faced my own fears in losing “face,” or appearing weak.

In the book “An Everyone Culture”, the authors Bob Keegan and Lisa Lahey write:

“In an ordinary organization, most people are doing a second job no one is paying them for.  In businesses large and small; in government agencies, schools, and hospitals; in for-profits and non-profits and in any country in the world, most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations. Hiding. We regard this as the single biggest loss of resources that organizations suffer everyday.”

Yet, most of us aren’t Lying, Hiding and Faking maliciously.  We have very human reasons for wanting to look good – the pursuit of self above the enterprise. I thought it might be helpful to share what we have found at Next Jump to be the top five reasons people lie, hide and fake. In a future post, I will share HOW we go about working on reducing LHF for each of us personally and as a company.

Why we LHF

We Feel Inferior (and it’s contagious)

Imagine you are on a new leadership team and the most senior person in the room explains the plan.  They then ask the group “Is that clear?”  The person next to you says “clear to me” and everyone else nods.  Are you going to actually say, “Sorry, I don’t understand. I’m lost”?  I wouldn’t in these situations – in fact, I probably would have been the first person to say it was clear.

Our Co-CEO Meghan Messenger started as an intern at Next Jump (I was her first boss) – she grew into the head of merchant sales before becoming Chief of Staff before eventually becoming our Co-CEO.  The greatest lesson I have learned from her is watching her put aside her ego and have the courage to say “I don’t get it.”  It resulted in more trust with the senior leader, often would clear up confusion for the entire group.  Yet, that is very difficult to do – in essence to get over that feeling of not wanting to feel inferior.  Click here to see Meghan’s talk on Lying, Hiding, Faking

We Make A Mistake (downward spiral)

Making mistakes (i.e., “fumbles”) happens to everyone.  They have certainly happened to me.  But, it’s what happens afterwards that can lead to a series of increasingly more fumbles because we are scared of how we looked after the first one.  I vividly remember a large prospective client sales presentation where I knew I had mishandled some difficult questions (my “fumble”). I was disappointed in myself and tried to deflect away from my fumble and focus on all the reasons why the client wasn’t “getting it.”  Yet I remember our CEO, Charlie Kim, digging into what had happened and then sharing some great ideas on how to follow up post-meeting; that the sale wasn’t lost. Without his proactive efforts, I would have followed on with more fumbles and not followed up to change the result. I would have not taken the lessons learned and instead just moved on.

Loyalty (self and team preservation over common good)

Our leadership team recently traveled to Whidbey Island to spend time with the leaders at one of the top Naval bases (home of the Growler airplanes). They shared a story that in the rare case when a person working on maintaining the aircraft loses a screwdriver, it’s a big deal because if a loose screwdriver gets into the engine while the plane is in the air, disaster can happen and lives are at risk. It is expected that the individual say something immediately. The entire squadron must ground to a halt until the screwdriver is found. It puts everyone behind at work, it’s embarrassing for person who lost the screwdriver and does not look good for reputation of the squadron. There are real consequences for that person who doesn’t speak up out of trying to protect his brand or not wanting the team or leadership to look bad. (I wrote more about our lessons from Whidbey here.)

In a work setting, we don’t often have circumstances where people’s lives are at stake, and so it becomes infinitely easier to not share something out of loyalty to not wanting themselves or their team to look bad.

No Solution (we don’t bring up problems unless have a solution)  

This is one of my biggest personal emotional hurdles.  I was raised in a family with the motto “Kunkels suck it up.”  We didn’t talk much about our problems and if we did, we were expected to have ideas on solutions.  I feel that when I do bring up problems without solutions, I am complaining, being a victim.  As a leader, I often have a visceral emotional reaction when someone brings a problem to me and hasn’t appeared to try to think of solution.  However, that has had a painful cost over time of my team being afraid to bring up problems.

As a leader, I have to deliberately practice being patient and recognize my own emotions as people share their problems.  I have had to practice courage in sharing those problems with my wider team when I don’t know what the right approach is or what the solution might be.

Not The Expert (“someone knows more”)

Experience and expertise matter.  However, we can easily hide behind an expert even when we feel that something is off.  At Next Jump, this issue often comes up – around security-, legal-, or compliance-related topics.  For instance, we recently had an incident with an employee of one of our clients. I felt the right thing to do was share this with our contact.  Yet our security person said we could not share it as it is not allowed.  Only through experience and regret have I learned to not immediately stop there because I don’t know the security regulations very well.  In this case, I asked questions, shared what my concerns were and we figured out a solution.  Yet too often I have just deferred to the “expert”, and if challenged by another leader, I would say “well, our security person said we couldn’t”, and just shut down any challenge or exploration. I would turn off my instincts.

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These are five of the most common reasons for why we lie, hide and fake – they are normal human emotions of protecting our ego and self.  Reducing our LHF takes practice of changing habits, building our own circles of safety where you can say what you feel, and sharing what is on your mind when it won’t be used against you.  I will share more of our lessons here in future posts.

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