The Big White Lie: The Truth About Corporate Accountability.

Corporate LiesEric Savitz, Forbes Staff

Somewhere along the way, the truth got a bad reputation.

It happens every day in Corporate America – senior executives receive gratuitous praise for mediocre performances. Millions of hours are lost to scripted narrators accompanied by unproductive PowerPoint decks. Yet, senior executives get away with it all the time because, let’s face it, who’s going to give an honest critique to the person at the top? When nobody speaks up, the executive doesn’t have the feedback necessary to warrant a change in his or her performance. Thus, standards are sacrificed and inefficient routines rule the boardroom.

I witness ineffective delivery from the C-Suite on a regular basis. Recently, I observed a CEO address a conference as a keynote speaker with a truly insipid presentation. But somehow, his performance was topped off with a standing ovation initiated by a front row filled with his loyal staff. It might not seem so detrimental at first, but consider that the speaker walked away from the experience thinking he just hit a home run, when in fact he totally struck out. What his team needs is a great corporate leader and communicator, but instead their desire to kiss up was misleading, and will result in missed opportunities for the company, and for that executive’s most critical communications in the future.

You’re being lied to

Whether it’s a team meeting, customer presentation or keynote address, executives are consistently lied to by their teams. It’s the “Big White Lie” that’s damaging the executive backbone of leading businesses. Unfortunately, under this regime, authenticity and vulnerability cease to exist for today’s corporate leader, yet those are the qualities a good leader needs to motivate his or her team. The Center for Creative Leadership surveyed 247 executives about leadership trends in business. In response, 17% of the executives listed public image maintenance as the top obstacle to remaining authentic. One executive revealed, “The pressure to show self-confidence even during times of insecurity is a major impediment to remaining authentic.”

People need to be connected to their leaders, who represent brands. When leaders are honest and authentic, people get connected to the business. Recently, we’ve been inundated with news around Steve Jobs’s resignation. Steve comes across as an authentic leader, and his nature draws people to the brand. People feel connected to him because he is a real person and he makes the brand real to them.

Getting rid of “The Big White Lie”

There are many companies who coach executives, guiding them as they overcome the damages of being lied to for years. When an executive sees that he or she is coming off as inauthentic, the decision to change comes from them at our suggestion. The journey starts with connecting to your “authentic self,” using content that is honest, straightforward and appealing to the emotional needs of your listener. Take responsibility to make that change and don’t think about your ego or about logistics, metrics, charts or diagrams. Just talk, conversationally. Being programmed to think isn’t going to win opportunities, and a few “ums,” “errs” and pauses aren’t going to make your employees trust you less. Be human, be yourself and don’t worry about looking like the perfectionist that you aren’t.

Releasing the inner trendsetter

Executives have a tendency of holding back, masking genuine qualities behind a suit and tie; but a leader isn’t meant to be a conformist, but rather a trendsetter. You can and should admit mistakes or uncertainty. Somewhere along the way, the truth got a bad reputation, and executives can curb that trend. Don’t be afraid to share yourself with your employees and dialogue with them honestly about problems and opportunities. You’ll see what a difference it makes in commitment, enthusiasm, performance and confidence.

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