Business Columns & Blogs

Jerry Osteryoung: Once trust is lost, leadership is lost, too

Jerry Osteryoung
Jerry Osteryoung

Lying is not one of those topics people talk about often, but it certainly was a central theme leading up to this year’s presidential election. Moreover, lying can sink any business.

Trust is predicated on truth, and without trust, it is impossible for leadership to be effective. I have seen many businesses fail because management refused – for whatever reason – to tell the truth.

For most people, lying can be traced back to childhood. Most parents have to work hard at teaching their kids not to lie. I think we all can remember a time when the punishment for our bad behavior was worse when we lied about it than when we told the truth.

Although this training makes sense, it does not seem to stick once we have reached adulthood. Statistics show the average person lies at least twice a day, with 20 percent of people producing 80 percent of the lies.

Further research by the University of Massachusetts found that 60 percent of adults could not have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once. The same study also found that 90 percent of people using online dating services lied on their profile.

Some people prefer to lie than tell the truth. There are pathological liars who seem to prefer to lie for no apparent reason, but lying has many unpleasant consequences.

First, there is the fact that people who lie generally have to create more lies to back up the original one. Whether you realize it, lying causes you to put up walls and live in a false reality, which requires constant effort to keep the facade from crumbling.

This takes you away from the present, so you are unable to deal with the here and now. Indeed, protecting a lie can be exhausting.

Even small lies have costs and consequences. For example, if your spouse asks how he or she looks, most people will say they look great regardless of how they feel. However, lying – even about small things – creates a biological response that includes increased blood pressure, perspiration and pulse rate, all of which polygraph tests use to pinpoint lies with tremendous accuracy.

Furthermore, most people can spot a lie, and when they do, they lose confidence in you, regardless of how big or small the lie is. This is why successful entrepreneurs are adamant that lying is the No. 1 reason businesses fail. Once trust is lost, leadership cannot be effective.

As a leader, you cannot have your staff not trust you. Telling lies, no matter the reason, is a sure way to end the trust and your ability to be a leader.

Now go out and try to resist telling lies, no matter how small they seem. It will make a tremendous difference in your life and your business.

Jerry Osteryoung, a business consultant and Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University, can be reached at