My last cardinal sin for managers post — takeing credit for the accomplishments, ideas, and successes of others — involves misrepresenting yourself as the author of real things. Cardinal sin number 4 for managers, involves creating fiction. Specifically, the invention of accomplishments, experiences, and successes never had.
Over the years I have seen some spectacular examples of resume padding in the professional world, complete with the disastrous consequences that often accompany them. Aspiring political candidates and job aspirants who have claimed military service never done, academic degrees never attained, professional experience never undertaken, and awards and recognition never received. Failure to achieve their immediate desired goals almost always followed.
Once again for managers in the workplace, resume padding or falsely burnishing one’s image rarely takes extreme or dramatic forms. Nevertheless it happens often as a manager recounts recent and past experiences in a variety of forums to anybody willing to listen.
Here I am not talking about the slight hyperbole that some of us often engage in when recounting something that actually happened or telling a story. Those who get to know us tend to account for this tendency and recalibrate what they hear accordingly. In my case, the raised eyebrow of my wife or a colleague generally suffices as a self-governing device. The point remains that the basic components of the story are real.
What I am talking about is the conscious fabrication of events, past experiences, and prior accomplishments designed to impress the listener in some way. Thus many of the basic components of a story are not real but inventions designed to let us know how impressive, important, influential, or down-right talented the story-teller is.
Of course how do we actually know what we are hearing is a fabrication? In many instances we do not and will not if the fabricator is clever, a skilled yarn spinner, and disciplined enough to pick his or her spots and their frequency carefully. The trouble is that once again this habit tends to become habitual and eventually transparent to those who have heard one too many tall tales.
Some managers in my experience have had difficulty keeping their stories straight, rendering them vulnerable to comparing notes. In other instances, circumstances have required verifying a fabricated account of something a manager has claimed thus revealing the actual truth. But most often this tendency to make-up things designed to impress produces through its frequency its own common-sense transparency, which inexorably undermines their carefully cultivated image constructed on a house of cards.
Like the other cardinal sins of management, this one raises basic questions about a manager’s honesty, candor, and maturity among subordinates and superiors alike. It also tends to erode the mutual trust and respect that is essential to an effective superior-subordinate relationship.
In the age of email, Facebook, and Twitter, we are all frequently reminded of how impossible it seems to ever retract something once it enters the public domain. Thus false claims once aired remain an ever-present danger to our reputation for honest self-disclosure, and mature comfort with who we actually are and what we have actually accomplished.
What the best managers know is that their reputation for managerial excellence will ultimately be defined by the performance of those they manage — and the consequent success of their organization — not their image. Thus they are content to simply manage and let the image creating to others. They also understand that it is always better to allow others to occasionally blow your horn in well deserved praise, than to constantly and falsely blow your own.