In her Sunday column "Lies As Wishes," New York Times
columnist Maureen Dowd details the misadventures of executives and politicians,
in this case primarily the latter, who enhance their accomplishments to
strengthen their position with the voters. Ms. Dowd, paraphrasing
T. S. Elliott when he wrote that memory mixes with desire, concluded,
"Politicians get into trouble when desire nixes memory."
Truth is that while politicians are the most visible offenders of
this maxim, executives and managers seeking a new job are hardly immune.
Resume enhancement –exaggeration of accomplishments or credentials — remains
a growing problem in our hyper-competitive job market. Regrettably, I
believe, it will only get worse.
"These cases are never merely about words," Ms. Dowd
wrote. "They are more profoundly about identity." She
finds support for her thesis in the words of Bella DePaulo, psychology professor
at the University of California, Santa Barbara:
"I think lies are like wishes," Dr. DePaulo said.
"So when you wish you were a certain kind of person that you know
you are not and maybe you are not willing to do what it would take to become
that kind of person, or can't go back, it becomes tempting to lie."
The tragic lesson is that far too many leaders — in government
and in business — will lie, spin, shade the truth or whatever term you would
like to employ, when the mere truth would have carried the day.
Some people, my grandmother liked to say, will climb up a tree,
hang by their heels and lie when it would have been easier — and a lot less
risky — to stand toe-to-toe, face-to-face, and tell the truth.
At a time when voters and employees thirst for truth — even when
it makes them uncomfortable — we are developing a national culture based on
spin and the enhancement of facts or circumstances.
I once interviewed a candidate who, up front, admitted to spending
90 days at the Betty Ford Center. His treatment was prompted by an over
abundance of caution — to understand and control what he thought might be an
emerging reliance on alcohol. He loved his family and his profession and
did not want to risk either. After a detailed vetting process, including
interviews with his counselor and an intensive review of public records, he got
the job and went on to perform brilliantly in a large public hospital.
His admission of a personal flaw made him authentic.
It was easier for him to stand face-to-face and tell the truth.
He didn't need to embellish. That is a practical lesson for
job seekers and politicians.
Now a more interesting question: how do you know which
candidates you are recruiting are telling the truth and which ones are
enhancing their hiring chances?
Is your screening process sufficiently robust to distinguish
between the two?
© John G. Self, 2010
Mr. Self is the founder
of JohnGSelf Associates, Inc., an executive search and advisory services
firm in Dallas. He has extensive experience in recruiting in Asia,
Africa, the Middle East, and North America.
A highly rated
speaker, Mr. Self has more than 30 years of healthcare experience, 16 years in
executive search, and his record of talent selection is one of the best in the
He is the 2010 Regent
Award winner as the senior healthcare leader of the year in North Texas, an
honor bestowed by the American College of Healthcare Executives.