Editor's View

Where liars and fantasists rule

May 08 issue

The first lie you’re told as a child is that honesty is the best policy. If you really want to get ahead in this world, you need to be skilled at knowing when to say somebody is right when you think the exact opposite, or to say, ‘We’re reviewing our budget’ rather than give an outright ‘no’ to a company pitching for business.

As you grow older, it becomes clear that absolute candour is deemed a sign of idiocy. But there is a fine line between understanding that the truth can be finessed and – to use a word that’s now out of fashion – spin. For a growing business, you need your eternal optimists, the fervent believers in those deals in the pipeline, but you also need to weed out those who want to curry favour with the MD by promising unrealistic returns.

‘We can double our revenue in the next six months,’ claims one.

‘Four months,’ cries another.

‘Three o’clock this afternoon.’

On it goes.

Management meetings are notorious for such one-upmanship. Outlandish boasts are often too much for an MD to resist. They’re helpless, hypnotised by those endless pound signs dancing before their eyes. Budgets are adjusted. Marketing strategies put into action. The sales team go to work…

Closing deals and driving new business takes time and skill, effort and intelligence. Boundless optimism is one thing, yet having senior managers who simply say what an MD wants to hear is disastrous.

Such managers are detectable as they tend to use phrases like “100lb gorilla” or “plug and play” and they like to blame others when a deal falls through. The very worst are bold enough to create their own language, throwing in words like “demorable” or “operationalisation”. It’s like a cult way of speaking that teenagers use to disguise and conceal insecurities about their own identity.

In a sense, fantasists are worse than liars because at least liars have a respect for the truth. Yes, you have to be a risk taker, dreamer, a little bit crazy and all the rest of it to run your own business, but a measure of reality and patience can be more profitable in the long run.