Why to avoid secrets and mendacity

by | Apr 20, 2011 | Blog | 2 comments

“There are no secrets anymore. Everything will come out,” said Henry Kraemer, Clinical Professor of Management & Strategy of the Kellogg School of Management speaking recently to a Bay Area group of Northwestern University alumni.

Secrets belong in corporate museums along with typewriters, carbon paper, and liquid paper. (Privacy is another matter.)

Trying to keep secrets is a waste of time and energy. Even worse, is thinking you—or the leaders you work with—can get away with a fib embedded in your secret or personal message.

Like Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I’ve noticed the “powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity” in my world recently.

First was the neighbor who confided that she needed a fence for a dog that doesn’t exist. Several weeks later her contractor told me that he had just installed a big picture window in her bathroom that looks out at our house. So the fence is for privacy.…..

Second were the Tea Party members who said they were only concerned with extraordinary federal expenses, not social issues. Yet word got out while we were in Washington, D.C. for Planned Parenthood’s annual membership meeting that the representatives were protesting federal funding to deliver basic health care services for women, men, and children that Planned Parenthood has received since the Nixon administration ….

Third, there were the job candidates and me who compared notes and quickly realized we all had heard different stories about the filling of the same job.

Mendacity not only stinks, but it also hurts your brand, your credibility, and your reputation.

Professor Kraemer, the former CEO and chairman of Baxter, doesn’t cite truthfulness or integrity as one of his four values in his new book From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership, but they should be part of one’s self reflection. (His four values are self-reflection, balance, true self-confidence, and genuine humility.)

So the next time you—or a leader you support—are inclined to tell something off the record, on the Q.T., and very hush hush (a la the movie L.A. Confidential),  stop and think:

  • Is this accurate?
  • Is this credible?
  • Is this defendable?

If the answer is “yes” on any one of these, you’re running a risk that may not be worth taking. You’re especially vulnerable if you’re trying to influence individuals to adopt an organizational change. Secrecy and any mendacity can destroy trust.

So how well are you avoiding swamps these days?


  1. Jeff Toister

    Nice post and very on point. Unfortunately, “mendacity” is a term that applies to a lot of current events. And, it’s also the reason I stopped using the BCC function for email years ago.

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Thanks, Jeff! I agree with you about the BCC, blind carbon copy. (Talk about an outdated name, but that may be a different story!) At any rate, I now use that function only when I’m on my Blackberry and want to make sure I have a record of my reply.

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