Warren Buffet is known for his wise words, his prowess on strategy, and his powerful lessons in leadership.
He’s also known for his candor, as when he warned investors about less than truthful CEO behavior:
“The CEO who misleads others in public may eventually mislead himself in private.”
This Buffett quote is found in the Berkshire Hathaway Owners Manual (Principle No. 12), a one-of-a-kind document that tells investors what they can expect from owning Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway business. It also acknowledges a truth–bull$#!@ has a price.
It got me thinking about the problem of B.S. in the workplace. It’s not as harmless as it may seem.
1. B.S.’ing destroys trust.
We’re not as good at getting away with B.S. as we think we are, and when people catch on to it, it’s a small breach in integrity come to life. And even the smallest breaches of integrity can absolutely destroy trust. Such breaches make us uncertain about an individual or an organization, and that uncertainty is incredibly difficult to dissipate. If you’ve been breached, and we all have, you know this to be sadly true.
As the author of Investing Between the Lines and candor expert Laura (LJ) Rittenhouse told me, “We have to accept that B.S.’ing is actually worse than lying. Even when people lie or distort facts, they’re still connected to a truth, even if it’s one that they’re trying to deny. But B.S. is not grounded in truth or facts. People who traffic in B.S. will say what they want to say because they feel like saying it”.
It’s verbal sputter that creates doubt, fearfulness, confusion–and it obliterates trust.
2. B.S.’ing can escalate into more damaging behaviors.
Rittenhouse went on to explain the “Dashboard of Falsehoods” to show how seemingly harmless B.S. can quickly escalate.
Benign, harmless forms of falsehoods include polite/white lies, bluffing, and noble lies. Progressing along the Dashboard we find B.S. as well as puffery, exaggeration, and bold-face lies. And this is where the problem really begins, as these falsehoods can quickly elevate to other more toxic behaviors like omission, perjury, and (as Buffett pointed out), lying to oneself.
Participating in this last set of falsehoods will never, ever, lead to anything good. But here’s one good piece of news. We’re all born with internal truth-telling equipment that helps us to intuitively, even energetically, see the difference between truth and B.S. In business and in life, it’s vital that we activate our inner B.S. radar.
3. We think, “B.S.’ing and acting without integrity is what other people do–not me.”
Sorry, but I have to call B.S. We all B.S. from time-to-time in one way or another. But there are countless opportunities for us to be more mindful about shutting it down. And the truth is that we all can improve ourselves by acting with stronger internal integrity, as well. This means avoiding other forms of B.S. besides just the verbal spew kind. Author and integrity expert Dan Coughlin says to improve our internal integrity we can:
- Be vigilant to always do what’s right, even when no one is looking.
- Act with external integrity (i.e., doing what you say you will).
- Integrate your internal and external integrity, so you don’t come across as “fake” or inconsistent.
- Be mindful of your image of integrity (i.e., don’t do things that are perfectly innocent but might cause someone watching to “wonder what’s going on”).
I’m not asking anyone to be perfect (I’m certainly not), nor am I trying to be holier than thou. I’m just saying that there’s no time like the present to call B.S. on B.S.
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