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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

What to Do When Your Boss Lies

Bosses can create plenty of problems. Sometimes they’re mean, sometimes they micromanage, and sometimes, they refuse to manage at all.

But finding out your boss lies takes a strained employee-manager relationship to another level. Once that trust is eroded, it becomes hard to follow your boss’ direction, wondering if he or she is taking you down the right path or leading you astray. Everything that comes out of his or her mouth becomes questionable—information about the company’s status, promises of raises or new projects, and even affirmation for your good work suddenly seems questionable. And that makes it extremely difficult to do your job effectively.

So what happens when you catch your boss in a lie—or several?

For me, having a manager who lied wasn’t so much an issue of figuring out how to make him or her stop. Lying usually isn’t something you can simply manage out of someone. And so, it became more about reconciling with myself if I could continue working for a boss I didn’t fully trust.

To do that, I asked myself a couple key questions that helped me get down to the root of the issue and decide how I should move forward.

1. Where Are His or Her Intentions?

A couple years ago, my entire department was working on an extensive, time-sensitive project—which involved contacting our entire customer base one by one. I was one of the department supervisors, so the other managers and I regularly met with my boss to discuss the team’s progress.

To make sure we met our deadline, the boss decided to announce that the company’s executive team had given us a deadline of four weeks—when it was actually six. He figured that by fudging the number just a little, he could ensure we met the executives’ timeline—or even beat it.

In the end, we were able to deliver the completed project to the company’s executive team ahead of schedule—which certainly put the entire department in a good light.

In another job, I had a boss (the owner of the small startup) who would often stretch the truth—especially to the media. Whenever she was quoted in a newspaper article or interview, she’d overestimate the number of our employees. She’d boast about employing over 350 staff members—when I knew that we only had about 100.

The difference between the two? The first boss wanted the team to succeed; to deliver good results ahead of time that would boost the department’s reputation and value within the entire company. While I won’t condone the lying behavior, from what I could tell, he had good intentions.

The second manager wanted her company to appear successful. She wanted the credit and recognition for running such a large company without actually working for those impressive numbers. Lying created a direct shortcut for her to achieve that goal—and proved her selfish intentions.

2. How Does it Impact You and Those Around You?

In the first situation, I’ll admit it—the tight deadline certainly added some stress and pressure to the team’s daily lives. But considering it didn’t require hours of overtime or employees staying late into the night, it proved that it was something the team was capable of all along—they just needed that push. In short, the feigned deadline made the team work harder toward success.

The other situation, however, put everyone in the company in an uncomfortable situation. If we were asked questions by any of our clients or media contacts, we had to decide whether to back up our boss and perpetuate the dishonesty or speak up with the truth and risk our jobs.

The impact of the two situations varied greatly. While one pushed the employees to greatness, the other forced the employees to dishonesty.

In the end, no matter how great your boss’ intentions, or how little the lies impact your work, the truth is that discovering that your manager has lied even once is enough to chip away your trust in him or her. And so, you have to evaluate your relationship to determine if that is something you can work around—or if you’d rather find a trustworthy boss elsewhere.

These questions provided me with enough clarity to realize that I could still work with the boss in the first situation. I saw that his intentions were good, the impact was beneficial, and overall, I still respected him as a manager and leader.

The dishonesty in the second situation, however, was something I couldn’t overlook. This boss continually lied for her own benefit—and her benefit only—regardless of how it impacted the rest of the team. That, in itself, immediately changed the way I viewed her and took away from the respect I once had for her. I didn’t want to invest my time and effort in working for a leader I couldn’t trust or respect.

Catching your boss in a lie—or several—can be a tricky situation. But ask yourself a couple key questions, trust your gut feeling, and decide what’s best for your career going forward.

Photo of lying boss courtesy of Shutterstock.