When a Leader Lies

What happens when a leader tells a lie?  More specifically, what happens when team members learn that the leader lied to them?  I am not referring to incidents in which it seems that the leader misspoke based upon misinformation, but to incidents in which it seems that the leader deliberately chose to make an untrue statement.

We know that a discovered lie is toxic to the leadership of a referent power leader, because referent power arises from the leader’s style of treating others—being supportive and expressing appreciation—all of which relies on genuineness.

But how does a lie affect the effectiveness of a person who operates from one or more of the other bases of leadership power?

For someone who operates on positional power, the lie weakens his or her effectiveness.  A team member’s impression of that person becomes:  “I respect the position, but I don’t respect the person at all, so I can’t follow him/her.”

For someone who operates on expert power, the lie weakens his or her effectiveness.  A team member’s impression of that person becomes:  “The leader knows much, but sometimes chooses to say something that isn’t true; therefore, I can’t put stock in any of the expert information that comes from his/her mouth.”

For someone who operates on reward power, the lie weakens his or her effectiveness.  A team member’s impression of that person becomes:  “I can’t trust that the leader will truly do what he/she has promised to do for me/us.”

For someone who operates on coercive power, the lie probably will not weaken his or her effectiveness.  In theory, the effect might be the same as it is on a reward power leader; team members could come to doubt whether the coercive power leader’s threats of punishments will be carried out.  However, it is more likely that a team member’s impression of that person will become:  “The leader is even more dangerous to me than I thought—a punisher and a liar; I can’t afford to slip up.”

So, four out of five bases of power are weakened by lies; and the fifth base is not even a viable style with or without lies.

What have you noticed about leaders who lie?  Feel free to drop me a line privately and let me know.

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