Are You Living A Lie?

Following on from a conversation I had with a colleague of mine this week, I wanted to offer some insights into an issue which is becoming increasingly familiar in my work.

Whilst there are countless articles surrounding the more obvious types of dishonesty that occur such as fraud, there is little discussion surrounding the type of dishonesty which is far more common, but equally devastating – ‘accidental dishonesty.’ Whether it is accidental or intentional, dishonesty within family businesses can be devastating.

To illustrate what I mean by ‘accidental dishonesty’, I’d like to share with you two separate extracts from a recent meeting I had with a family. Despite having worked with both the father and the son for a several months, I was surprised to hear the below…

Father: “Of course I am willing to hand over the business to my children…I don’t want to let them down.”

 Son: “I am really not interested in taking over the business, but I don’t want to let mum and dad down…so I guess I will do it.”

As an outsider I had the advantage of viewing what was going on inside the family through a completely different lens; one family with two very different perspectives. Both the father and son were completely unaware of what each other was thinking or feeling, because they had never told one another. Consequently, both were living a lie – not only to themselves but to each other.

‘Accidental dishonesty’ happens when there is a total breakdown of communication and understanding as to what each family member wants and needs. Both the parents and the children go through the motions, making assumptions, afraid to have honest conversations. They live in an illusion that they are protecting one another when the opposite couldn’t be truer – a façade that could ultimately cost them the future of the business.

If a child is not fully invested, then they are completely unaware and ill-equipped to take on the huge (and I mean huge) responsibility of running a family business. If the dad hasn’t fully prepared the child or alternatively found a suitable successor inside or outside of the family, there is a gaping hole that needs filling. Either way the survival of the business is threatened.

Living a lie within a family business framework is no different to living a lie in any other kind of relationship. It erodes trust, causes resentment, anger, pain, shame…and speaking from personal experience is hard work. Being inauthentic to yourself is the worst kind of conflict we can inflict on ourselves and those around us. Plus, as we all know one lie is never one lie.

Most of us don’t tell lies to intentionally cause hurt, but lying for whatever reason inevitably always does cause suffering regardless. Letting go of a lie demands accountability, responsibility and vulnerability – all traits’ we humans often avoid. ‘Accidental Dishonesty’ is predicated on a false narrative that can be avoided if there is both a willingness and an infrastructure, in place for both parties to feel safe to share their truth. My role is simply to cut through the BS and to help families be honest with themselves and each other. Honesty breeds trust, and trust is a fundamental requisite for a relationship to function and thrive. When we operate through a lens of honesty, we are in alignment and able to make decisions with compassion, commitment and clarity.

And as the classic Disney film ‘Pinocchio’ so beautifully captures in a single scene – if you are brave, truthful, and listen to your conscience, you will find salvation. The truth ultimately sets you free.

“Always lest your conscience be your guide.” Pinocchio

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