lying in the workplace, part 2

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Yesterday I wrote about Mary and Veronica, who had lied about their work under my supervision. I caught their “errors” and confronted both.  Mary, who worked hard but often made mistakes, had lied to cover up her lack of comprehension.  Veronica had lied to finish her work more quickly, but understood fully what she was doing.    So what happened?  Who got fired?

Mary was fired. It’s hard to fire someone whose biggest fault is honesty.  She had been struggling for years before she reported to me.  She simply couldn’t absorb the information.  Too much time had passed, and she hadn’t improved; it was clear this wasn’t the job for her.

Veronica wasn’t fired. Yet the senior manager we both reported to made a  blatant threat:  one more time and you will be fired and the reason why will be known in the business community.  No small threat; we worked for one of the most well-respected employers in the city and they could be influential in ruining someone’s career.  I thought that part of the threat was unnecessary, but I told her that since she worked for me, her sole concern should be doing quality work – not quantity.  But Veronica was smart and talented, and so she stayed.

Flash forward a few years… Mary was much happier in an accounting position.  It didn’t demand much judgment.  She didn’t have to travel, or work late.  Nobody expected her to be creative or decisive.  I met her for lunch one day and she was relaxed, happy, confident and most importantly, under no pressure to lie.  Getting fired, she said, had freed her.

Veronica continued to work for me for years. If you’ve worked in project years, you have either experienced or seen the development of near-perfect co-workers.  She and I worked on project after project together, and her abilities grew and grew.  Her focus on details and efficiency complimented what (I hope) were my growing skills in project management and working with clients.  We became good friends.  Her career within the firm took off, and to this day she continues to move up the ladder in her professional life.

Lying in the workplace is a terrible thing. I only have to whisper “Enron” or “most of Wall Street” for you to understand why.  But lying can have consequences far beyond what you imagined.  I was glad things happened the way they did.  It is odd to think that small acts of dishonesty by both women – when caught! – had such lasting positive results.  Never think that honesty alone will guarantee you moving ahead in the business world, or that lying will halt your progress if discovered.  Sad to say, ability will beat out honesty almost every time.

Photo by spaceodissey

9 comments

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  • Doesn't surprise me in the least. Sounds like something one of the Big 4 would do. That's why AA no longer exists. Their dishonesty was caught and they were fired. If Mary has a CPA, the dishonesty should have been reported as she is supposed to competent AND ethical. Mary sounds like the kind of person who would thrive in the Big 4 environment (i.e. eats time to make herself look better).

  • I meant Veronica where I said Mary.

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  • >>Sad to say, ability will beat out honesty almost every time.

    I have to disagree here, Steve, at least from the context of your story. Neither was honest, as you point out. Rather, while both had flaws, ability beat out the lack of suitability for a particular role. As you said, both are happy in the roles they now have, so there was no real contest here, with winners and losers. That may be the biggest mistake we make in life, to think that we either win or lose.

    I have been fired, perhaps deservedly so, for the same sin of lack of suitabilty. That told me it was time to find something more suitable, and is not a badge of dishonor.

    Nevertheless, you have a great story here, and the lessons are many and important in a career.

    • @curmudgeon: I guess my point was that lying itself is a forgivable offense. Lying is forgotten if you have enough ability – hence the rise of so many business and political leaders who have so many skeletons in their closets yet continue to remain leaders in our country.

    • Hmmm, thanks for the explanation, Steve. That's an interesting theory. I would say that lying damages you, but there are other factors that can offset it. Our President Clinton was undeniably a smart and capable person, but his frequent lies (and getting caught in them) have certainly damaged his reputation and legacy. If the lies outweigh the positive attributes (SC's governor Sanford, perhaps?), you start down that slippery slope toward irrelevance.

  • Hmmm, thanks for the explanation, Steve. That's an interesting theory. I would say that lying damages you, but there are other factors that can offset it. Our President Clinton was undeniably a smart and capable person, but his frequent lies (and getting caught in them) have certainly damaged his reputation and legacy. If the lies outweigh the positive attributes (SC's governor Sanford, perhaps?), you start down that slippery slope toward irrelevance.