he theme of truth as a virtue became intertwined with American mythology since the founding of The Republic. Myths surrounding the “Father of the Country” include a fable of a young George Washington cutting down his father’s cherry tree. When asked about why the tree no longer stood, Washington freely admitted to cutting the tree down and said “I cannot tell a lie.”
Myth versus Reality
While fables make for fun lessons, telling the truth seemed to become a lost art as the United States grew up. Tales of Washington’s stand against lying seemed to have been forgotten by the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan ordered members of his Republican Party to never speak ill about another member. By the 1990s President Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury.
Truth-telling seemed to be a lost art and certainly not as important as gaining power. It might have been difficult to track statements in the past, but telling lies now has become risky business.
Truth in the Information Age
Clinton’s trouble seems like a harbinger to a new era. Telling the truth has become the only way for businesses or politicians to stay out of trouble. Virtually every statement made by prominent people gets recorded, and the internet provides the means to broadcast. Lying might provide a temporary gain, but the long term effects can damage a brand or a candidate.
One of the best recent examples comes from the race for Barack Obama’s former seat in the U.S. Senate. Republican Congressman Mark Kirk seemed posed for a landslide victory until numerous public statements he made were shown to be lies. Kirk now faces a difficult race for the seat.
Kirk’s experience shows that it has become nearly impossible for politicians to lie. And Republican candidate Christine O’Donnell’s run for Senator has been plagued by another feature of the digital age. Her embarrassing comments, including her claim of “dabbling” in witchcraft, have turned off many independent voters. If a lie or embarrassing moment is caught there appears to be a better than average chance that the moment will be exposed.
Business Lies Most Damaging
If politicians cannot get away with embellishing their records, then businesses have almost no chance of cooking numbers. While there are more ways than ever to be caught in a lie, recent history shows that even the most successful and powerful businesses might be willing to distort the truth for short term profits. An immediate windfall might benefit a few people, but the long term effects of the lie could destroy the company or set back the entire economy.
The fall of Enron serves as perhaps the greatest cautionary tale for businesses tempted to lie. The energy giant went from a billionaire powerhouse to a penniless joke once its false profit reports were revealed. The scandal even brought down accounting firm Arthur Anderson.
How Do We Combat Lying in Business?
- Using a CRM where transparency is the best policy- others can view documents you’re working on and see any changes that have been made.
- Employ a check and balance system for teams, where in between projects each member shares what they’ve worked on, so as to assign the correct areas in the following projects.
- If you’re not using a CRM and working in the cloud, Google Docs for instance, make sure you’re using the appropriate privacy settings so that others cannot get into documents and share information if not appropriate.
From small businesses using CRM’s software to the most powerful businessmen and companies in the world, the lesson from the fable of Washington and the cherry tree remains surprisingly relevant. Telling the truth is no longer just a virtue. In the information age, it has become necessary.
This post was authored by Aimee Sway, blogging for PrintExpress.co.uk, the premiere business cards company.