Can You Base Your Career On A Little White Lie?

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

I just read a post by Nicole Williams at the Huffington Post entitled Five Lies You Should Tell Your Boss. According to Nicole, the five times it’s OK to lie are:

  1. When they ask what you’re worth.
  2. When they ask what your future plans are.
  3. When they ask about your experience.
  4. When they ask about your health.
  5. When you’re late.

The underlying (pun intended) thread of the conversation relates to how it’s acceptable to lie when it’s in your best interest. Therefore, you can be the judge.  It may be in your best interest to pad your preferred pay.  It may be in your best interest to mislead them about your future plans, or your experience or your health if you think that may not be what they want to hear.  She is “giving you permission to lie about” these things when you feel it’s in your best interest.

This brings up several interesting questions.  I’d like to know your questions and responses below too.  The questions that come to mind for me are:

  1. Would you feel alright if your employer lied to you if they felt like it was in their best interest?  Whenever issues of integrity pop up, my standard of measurement is always the other party’s perspective.  Would you appreciate it if your employer lied to you about how long they intended to employ you or how much they intended to pay you?
  2. Would you follow a leader that lied to their leaders or followers in this manner?  Same idea, flip the situation and see if this were your ideal situation.
  3. Would you prefer someone who knew the truth and hired you anyway?  If so, how will you ever know if you’re working for someone like that unless you tell them the truth, even when it comes to why you missed an important meeting?
  4. Is there an acceptable excuse for lying?  Her argument for allowing us to lie when we’re late to a meeting suggests there are some excuses that are better than others.  Don’t we all want team members that own their actions rather than blaming circumstances?  Which circumstances are acceptable, traffic, flight delay, sick child?  Why not take responsibility for your own actions and hope to find an employer that appreciated that?

I can’t tell you that I have always told the truth.  I’m often tempted to lie.  When someone lies, they do it because of fear.  I used to say the only acceptable lies are when someone asks you if they’re pretty or thin.  But in reality, my own faults not excepted, there are no acceptable lies because a fear based life makes us selfish and empty.  It takes courage to tell the truth and our world needs courage more today than in recent memory.  So it’s my plan to not lie, period.  I’m not perfect, and there are times when I might even actually compromise, but my intention is to start things right or make it right.  I’d like to live a fearless life and be a man of truth.  I’m surely not going to plan to lie or accept the compromise with fear in my life.  I don’t want to lie.

Fortunately, I’m not the sheriff.  It’s not my job to enforce that rule for anyone but myself.  However I hope that my friends, vendors, employees, employers, customers, and connections would see me as someone to whom they can tell the truth.  I hope that my friends know that my relationship with them is bigger than the consequences of whatever they may tell me that I don’t want to know.

What about you?  Do you think I’m a lunatic?  Do you believe that the end justifies the means?  Please keep the comments clean, without insult or personal offense and I’ll post them.  Would you rather someone had the courage to tell you the truth? Or would you rather have relationships based on uncertainty?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Erin Schreyer  |  16 Jul 2009  |  Reply

You are a man of integrity, Mike. That’s what makes you an exceptional leader!! Very nice post!!

ellen brandt, phd  |  16 Jul 2009  |  Reply


I think it’s hysterically funny – sad, but funny – that some obvious Script Kiddies got into your original address for this post and diverted clickers to an advertisement for a jacket!

The whole business about faux identities, faux bios, and faux everything on the Internet – which seems to be escalating badly since the advent of “SEO optimization” – is based on lies and deceit, which is why the Script Kiddies did not like your post.

For a “serious humor” twist on the nasty and nastier Fun and Games which now go on all over the Internet, your readers might enjoy my Stilettos-Vulture piece:


Some of us still believe that cordiality and civility are important virtues, even on the Web.


Joan Koerber-Walker  |  16 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Mike – I like how you turned the tables on this. Pretty eye opening to look at it from the other person’s perspective. My grandmother used to love to point out that a little white lie is still a lie and that when you stretch the truth, it isn’t the truth anymore..

Valerie Plis  |  16 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Great post, Mike! This was very thought provoking and will probably hit home for a lot of people. As for me, I’d rather be known as someone who was capable of communicating a hard truth with tact, diplomacy, and honesty.

Jennifer Miller  |  16 Jul 2009  |  Reply


You are NOT a lunatic. I believe that it takes years to build one’s credibility and only seconds to lose it.

It’s always puzzled me why someone would present information that’s false in the interview process. Aside from the obvious ethical reasons for telling the truth…there’s also the pragmatic reason. If you land the job and have “oversold” yourself, it will become clear in short order that you aren’t who you said you are. So everyone loses– your employer doesn’t get what they expected and most importantly, you’ve lost your credibility.

Seems like a bad deal all the way around.

Cindy Kraft  |  17 Jul 2009  |  Reply

I thought your post was excellent, Mike. It does take great courage to speak the truth, and requires having a value of integrity and a selfless mentality.

What I find is that when a candidate is trying to be what a company wants, rather than remain true to who he truly is, it is always a recipe for dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

It’s sad that they days of a hand-shake deal are long gone, that company loyalty is almost non-existent, that many promises are merely empty words delivered with no intention to follow through, that our society has turned so litigious, and that the question “is it ok to lie in a job interview” (even tongue-in-cheek) would even have to be asked.

Thanks for your great insights. It’s always great to ponder both sides of the statement.

Cindy Kraft,
the CFO-Coach

Mike Henry  |  17 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Erin, thanks for the comment and the encouragement.

Ellen, Thanks for the comment. I did figure out what the problem was, the link was supposed to end in a capital “i” rather than a small “L”. Bit.ly uses case sensitivity in their links.

Joan, that’s a great picture, the truth stretched isn’t the truth any more. I’ve got to remember that one. Thanks for the comment.

Valerie, That’s another great reason to not lie. Wouldn’t it be great if more people appreciated the strength of communicating hard truths? Thanks for the idea.

Jennifer, thanks for the reassurance. :-) We should value our true credibility rather than our “perceived” credibility. That gives me a subject for another post. If no one knows you lied, are you a truthful person?

Cindy, it is sad that the hand-shake deal is dead. Thanks for your comment.

Murray Williams  |  17 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Great Post! More and more companies and their constituents will have to come to grips that we are in an information society. Stakeholders are clamoring for more and more transparency. This climate demands that we all come to grips that we must tell the truth, because it will come out anyway. It is better to tell the truth now rather than try and pick up the pieces later when it blows up in your face later.

Mike Henry  |  17 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Murray, that’s very true. She even mentioned in the article that you needed to be careful to keep your story straight. Why waste the energy juggling your past lies when you could just tell the truth? Thanks for the comment.


Ralph Miller  |  17 Jul 2009  |  Reply

You asked: Would you feel alright if your employer lied to you if they felt like it was in their best interest?

Of course not. But I can also tell you that 9 times out of 10, they absolutely do. I was hired by a company that knew they were going out of business and I didn’t find out until a week before it happened. “Oh yeah…btw, you won’t have a job next week because we’re shutting things down. We knew when we hired you, but figured you wouldn’t take the job if you knew…” Really…? Thanks…

Well, I could be idealistic and say they shouldn’t have lied. Or I could be realistic and realize that if they needed someone to get the job done, they absolutely had to lie, otherwise, no one would have accepted the job.

The other case in which I would absolutely lie is when the Nazi is knocking on my door asking if I’m hiding a Jew in my house. Or any similar situation…

Sally Reed  |  19 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Ironically, researchers who ask employees what they want most out their employers consistently respond with “honesty”.

I don’t know how anyone could expect it if they can’t provide it, too.

Obviously, there are degrees. And there are severe circumstances (the above commenter’s hypothetical stormtrooper, for example) that justify lying.

I’m not so sure that starting out on the dishonest foot is really the way to go, though.

Don Patrick  |  20 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Mike – I was dismayed to read the original posting. It was just another signpost on this society’s road to ruin. Had I been bolder and more aggressive, I would have written a scathing rebuttal. But you did a great job coming up with a measured, logical, and quite convincing argument for the right path. Thanks so much….

Rita O  |  20 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Get post! Nice turn around as well.

Krista Francis  |  20 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Good post. It’s always good to consider the other party and how you would like it if they acted like you do! And it extends beyond ‘lying.’ Recently I read someone’s twitter post: “Accepted one position. Waiting to see if a better one comes through [so I can dump the first co].” I had to wonder how job applicants would like it if I wrote: “Hired good candidate. Waiting to see if someone better comes along.”

Greg Porto  |  20 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Every dysfunctional or destructive behavior starts out small, as does courageous or constructive behavior. Our culture and society is being destroyed by a relativism that justifies any type of behavior – instead, we need to hold each other accountable, be leadership role models, encourage each other to have the guts to take a stand. Mike, you are spot on!

Roberta Hill  |  21 Jul 2009  |  Reply

When I read the original post I tweeted: “What happened to truth and transparency? ” Many of my tweeter colleagues agreed how depressing this advice was. Thanks for your rebuttal.

This is not about a continuum of what is OK or even “right”. We often forget there is a distinction between truth and honesty. It is not really about lying. It is about integrity and character. It is about honour. It is about being the change we want to see in the world.

And as you point out, we do make mistakes but we at least know when we do. “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Some wonderful comments from your readers.

Mike Henry  |  21 Jul 2009  |  Reply

All – Thanks for your comments. I appreciate the lively discussion and your input. I’m glad to know integrity isn’t dead, yet.

Ralph – Thanks for the reminder that some lies are worth telling.

Sally – I agree, you can’t expect honesty any more than you provide it.

Don and Rita – Thanks for the encouragement.

Krista – One problem with failing to be truthful is the energy spent managing all the stories. If you’re not a person of integrity, it tends to be discovered at unpleasant times.

Greg – Thanks for the encouragement.

Roberta – Thanks for your wonderful comment too.

Mary Katherine  |  21 Jul 2009  |  Reply

What a refreshing perspective. Thank you so very much. I am reminded of a scene from ‘A Man For All Season’ where Thomas More is being asked to lie about his belief on the King’s divorce and marriage in order to save his title – and his head from the chopping block. The following is an exchange between More and Henry VIII:
Sir Thomas More: Then why does your Grace need my poor support?
King Henry VIII: Because you’re honest… and what is more to the purpose, you’re KNOWN to be honest. There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown; and those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth and I’m their tiger; there’s a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves. And then there’s you…
Sir Thomas More: I am sick to think how much I must displease your Grace.
King Henry VIII: No, Thomas, I respect your sincerity. But respect… man, that’s water in the desert.
Being known to be honest…truly as refreshing as water in the desert these days – and always.

Bill  |  21 Jul 2009  |  Reply

At The Fortune 20 company I work for upper management is quite adept at “half-truths”. Maybe these aren’t outright lies but I think that executives delude themselves into thinking that they are acceptable. This is probably why so many of my colleagues and workers in general are very jaded and justify white lies when it is in their interest. After all it’s like the old commercial when the parents ask their kids why he smokes. The answer – “I learned it from you!”

Mike Henry  |  21 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Mary Katherine – Thanks for the comment. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more water in the desert?

Bill – Thanks for the honest comment. It’s no doubt that your reasoning is common among our friends and coworkers. I just wish we could all remember that even if, like the kid in the commercial, we can blame our parents, we’re can’t skip out on the consequences of our own actions.

Doug Edgar  |  21 Jul 2009  |  Reply

Mike, you make me think (not always a good thing according to my girlfriend). I saw the title to this post in your index and immediately needed to check it out.

Deceit is human. Who hasn’t lied? Integrity is also human. Who hasn’t bucked up and confessed the truth from time to time? In some cultures, deceit is expected and praised (in one ethnic group of which I have considerable experience, sharing how one got away with something is among the grandest of stories).

Seems like in our culture, we honor integrity with our words but practice and accept deceit with our actions. We re-elect dishonest politicians and wish the courts would be more liberal in how they enforce the rights of criminals (until we are directly affected). We too often look the other way on what we know is wrong. We still love Bill Clinton after he looked right at us and lied about his affair with Monika Lewinsky. The President of the United States looked us in the eyes and lied to protect himself. Nixon got run out of office and lived in virtual exile for the remaining years of his life. Clinton makes $200,000 per speaking engagement because so many people revere him.

I think one’s level of emotional maturity is the difference between choosing deceit and choosing the truth. Truth is tough. We can know right from wrong but I think we need a healthy level of emotional maturity to practice it.

Maybe we need to be more focused on helping future generations develop healthy levels of maturity that allow them to live right than to talk right.

What a big topic. It could take a book to cover everything.


Mike Henry  |  26 Jul 2009  |  Reply

@Doug – My apologies for the delay responding. It would take a book. I hope you’re working on one. We all know what “right” is, yet many times we choose expedient or what appears to be expedient over what’s “right.” I agree too that we need to live right, which is better than just talking right. Thanks for commenting and joining the group. I appreciate it.

Zhana  |  23 Jul 2009  |  Reply

It is natural to tell the occasional lie (I know I have) and it is also natural to tell the truth. We have a choice: can go with our baser instincts, or with our higher ideals.

If we want honesty and integrity from our employers, colleagues and clients, we must demonstrate these qualities.

I recently listened to a teleseminar by Christine Kloser on how to double your business this year. She talked about three conscious business strategies, one of which was to be real, to be authentic. If you are not being authentic in your business, people will pick up on it. You will not perform at your highest possible level.

But most importantly, you will know. You are not being true to yourself. Somewhere, you are letting yourself down.

Mike Henry  |  26 Jul 2009  |  Reply

@Zhana – Thanks for the comment. We do all “let ourselves down” when we try to take shortcuts, or try to misrepresent rather than being authentic. Let’s stay with our higher ideals.

Join The Conversation