Why honesty is still the best policy

Malaysia Airlines' Charlotte Lam on how lying can get you to the top, but at what cost?

The corporate rat race is very much a game of thrones

While it is idealistic to think that meritocracy exists, climbing up the ladder is about what you say and not just what you do. People-pleasing personalities, who spew twisted tales and get others to do the work for them, are often the ones who rise fast. Unfortunately, people who are convincing enough tend to get the buy-in of those around them. That is, until the truth is exposed. 

It’s not a matter of ‘if’ they find out, but a matter of ‘when’

While we may think that lies can be kept a secret forever, more often than not, the truth will one day be exposed. Perhaps not while someone is still in the organisation, but after the person departs.  

After a superior left the organisation, his promises regarding my career growth and transfer were discovered to be lies. Nothing was ever put in place or spoken to higher authority on my progression to other departments. Every lie told was to keep me by his side, to deliver his projects, for his glory and his personal career advancement.  

Conversations with his other subordinates resulted in the same realisation — that he had made promises to them, to keep them where they were to do the work for him. Despite expressing how much he cares for us, things were never put into action. The result — a furious lot who will never again believe anything he says. 

The industry is a pond

It’s easy nowadays to claim credit for work that one has ‘contributed to’.  While posting campaign ideas or videos on LinkedIn, or adding a campaign into your portfolio, claiming that the work was your idea may  get the buy-in of those you have yet to work with, people within the industry do jump around from one organisation to the next, so it is possible to eventually spot whom the work belongs to.

I once came across a portfolio of a copywriter who submitted his job application to the Human Resource department. Not realising that I was the Hiring Manager for the role, he had listed a campaign in his portfolio, which he claimed to be his idea and concept. It looked surprisingly familiar. It was a campaign that I had personally worked on 11 years ago and developed the creative direction. His only contribution to the campaign was translating what I had already written in English.  

It was an immediate red flag on his honesty, and while I would have given him a shot based on the other work in his portfolio, it made me question whether the other work shared were genuinely his ideas.

This one deception was enough for me to move on to other candidates.

How long can you fake it? 

While some may fake being capable of handling a role through lies and manipulation, it’s only a matter of time when putting things into action will evidently prove what they’re capable of. 

Can they walk the talk? Or just talk, talk, and talk? How long can someone make others walk on their behalf? Hiding the truth can be exhausting, even if lying doesn’t weigh on their conscience at first. Eventually, the truth will catch up. 

What’s the cost of your reputation? 

While someone may rise to the top through manipulation and lies, trust takes years to build and a second to destroy. Are lies worth losing your  reputation? Even for a bigger title and a fatter pay cheque?

Word-of-mouth is one of the strongest methods of communication — and what is said about you will very much depend on the experience of those around you. So while lying may get you to the top, it would be wise to ponder whether it is worth the cost of your reputation. 

As one who is honest will be remembered for being so, one who spews lies will likewise be remembered for being so.

Featured image: Raphael Lovaski / Unsplash

Charlotte Lam, Creative Head (Copy) at Malaysia Airlines

Charlotte is the Creative Head (Copy-based) at Malaysia Airlines where she has won several marketing and advertising awards for the organisation.An idealist who started out in ad sales and media buying-planning in New Zealand, she eventually returned to Malaysia to pursue her love for scriptwriting and storytelling in DDB as a Copywriter. After 10+ years of hopping around agencies and now as an in-house creative, she still finds it thrilling to watch her storytelling scripts come to life through film.Charlotte has also written and co-directed a short film entitled 'Congee' which was a finalist film in Tropfest SEA - The World's Largest Short Film Festival. In between her busy schedule, she often dreams about living on a farm while pursuing her love for creativity and making a positive impact on the world

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