Lesa was excited to join the sports information department for lunch, a real team outing. For some reason, everyone drove separately, but Lesa took Mark up on his offer to drive. She wasn’t sure if taking individual cars was a sign of poor engagement, bad drivers or something else. Mark picked an Italian restaurant and everyone but Cody arrived at the same time. Cody didn’t make it in to work yet, but assured Mark he would be at the lunch outing.
Around 12:15, Cody bumbled through the door, located the team’s table and waved with a head nod of recognition. When he sat he apologized for being late and took a quick look at the only menu left on the table and placed his order, hoping his meal would arrive with everyone else’s.
Having a conversation with Mark wasn’t any easier over a meal, particularly because he had a mandatory 21 chew requirement for every piece of food he put in his mouth. Apparently everyone on the team knew this because no one asked him any questions, leaving Lesa with the feeling that spending this much money on lunch without getting to know her boss might not be worth it.
During one of the many awkward silences, Cody took it upon himself to fill the void. ***
“I was late for lunch today because I had to get an oil change for my car.”
Lesa interjected, “Oh yeah? The car that won’t go in reverse needed an oil change?”
Everyone laughed, knowing about Cody’s car troubles because he often had to circle a parking lot for significant periods of time in order to find a space he could pull through, or find a location where he could just…stop.
“Yeah, yeah,” Cody took the ribbing and continued. “I went to one of those quick oil change places where you don’t even have to get out of your car. It was the first time I did that, have any of you guys tried it?”
Oddly enough, everyone at the table took their car to a dealership for an oil change and was unware of Cody’s situation. “So you pull in and the attendants guide you into the garage so you park correctly. They check in with you, ask what kind of oil you want and that sort of thing and then ‘poof’ they start working. One guy is cleaning my windows, another is pumping air in my tires and another guy, well he disappears.”
The table was full of curiosity and gratitude, that someone was talking, telling a story that appeared to have a beginning and an end. Mark asked, “Where did he go?”
“That’s the thing,” Cody said. “He went under my car. It’s crazy! When I pulled my car into the garage, I was parking over a basement-like room where one guy goes in order to do whatever needs done for the oil change. I guess he wiggled around on some stuff, came back up, made an announcement about oil going in, grabbed a funnel and started pouring. I was done in less than 10 minutes but it did make me late, and I’m sorry.”
“Oh, it’s ok,” Mark said. “You made it in time to get your order in and join us, that’s all that matters.”
Mark continued chewing and some additional conversation, choppy and boring, occurred. As the meal wrapped up, Cody offered to take anyone who needed a ride – he had no idea almost everyone drove themselves – back to the office. Lesa took him up on the offer, just to mix it up.
Cody took the long way back because it gave him a chance to enter the parking lot on the left and that usually gave him a good look at finding the perfect parking spot. As soon as he made a successful left turn and pulled across the two lanes safely he announced, “I didn’t get an oil change today.”
“Yeah, I totally made that up. I overslept this morning and figured that wouldn’t be an acceptable reason to miss the morning and be late for lunch.”
Lesa sat, jaw nearly dropped to her belly, looking straight ahead, squinting with an attempt to hide her emotions. I can’t believe how gullible I am. What else does he lie about? How hard is to wake up and earn a paycheck? What is wrong with this guy? She pulled it together and said, “Well, I think you fooled everyone. I believed every word you said.”
“Oh I’ve got one of those oil changes done before. At the quickie places. Just not in Florida and not today.”
That makes it better, I guess?
They turned into the parking lot and circled four times before lucking into a pull-through parking spot that was perfect for the remainder, or start, of the day. Cody got to work and Lesa knocked out some game notes for the next day’s soccer game. Before she started researching what she called football nuggets, the dig-deep, what-if scenario notes that the television crew would use if the perfect situation played out, she decided to swing by Rhett’s office for a morale boost.
“Hey, there,” she said, lightly knocking on her door before entering.
“Hi, Lesa. How are you today?”
“I’m glad you asked. I’m doing ok but, I have a, what should I call it. A conundrum. Maybe not a conundrum. It isn’t really a problem that needs solved. Or maybe it does.”
“Well what is it?”
“Today I heard a story that was really detailed. A good story. I mean, it had so much detail and was so thorough. And then, I found out it wasn’t true. It’s not a big deal that it wasn’t true. It was a harmless story that apparently was fiction.”
“But I believed it. I mean, I really thought it was true. And I am kicking myself left and right for not realizing it wasn’t true. Why would someone lie like that? I understand exaggerating, stretching the truth for a laugh. But just to tell a story? How am I ever supposed to become a manager, director or any kind of leader if I can’t tell the difference between a truth and a lie?”
“Lesa, it’s important to reflect when things like this happen. Introspection is necessary, but don’t get stuck on the why. Too many times when people seek answers, particularly about themselves, to questions that start with why, they land on the wrong answers. But they feel good about the answer because they found something they can accept. To be a great manager, director or leader you have to be self-aware. But self-awareness has to start with you. Your values. Instead of kicking yourself for not recognizing someone telling a lie, revisit your values. The best leaders know what they stand for and ask others for feedback to be sure how they are perceived aligns with what they believe.”
“Ok, that makes a lot of sense.”
“The only tip I can give for recognizing a lie – and this isn’t foolproof – but it does tend to play out, is to pay attention to the details. For the most part, the more details someone provides in a basic story, the more likely they are not being honest.”
“Over the years, that’s what I’ve noticed. I’ll give you an example. We had a fellow a few years back who showed up to work late, day after day. He always had an excuse, but when those excuses wore out he was told enough is enough. After multiple feedback conversations, he was written up.”
“Oh wow, it was that bad?”
“Being late indicates so many things, Lesa. It says you don’t care, you don’t respect your co-workers, your work, your manager. I don’t want you to think 10 minutes late is an offense that will get you fired, because you do work a salaried position. This guy, he was more than 30 minutes late, habitually. After being written up, he does a great job. Shows up when he should, really appears to have turned things around.”
Lesa couldn’t help but think about her first day, when no one was in the office at 10:30 a.m., but decided it wasn’t best to bring that up. Still, it made her wonder why that guy, who obviously was no longer employed there, was picked on for being late.
“Then, he slips and shows up to work a full hour late. He was late for a team meeting and when he joined the meeting, he immediately began explaining why he was late. He told everyone that he was having car trouble, his car wouldn’t start. He finally gets his car started and as he was driving down Alafaya Trail, every light was red. And not just red lights, all the red lights were stuck on red. He explained how he was sitting, first in line in the middle of the three lane road, staring at the Honda Accord on his left and the Toyota Camry on his right, both drivers shrugging their shoulders in disbelief with him. According to him, that made his normal five minute drive to work 30 minutes. Then he finally gets to campus, and there aren’t any parking spots, so he was forced to park two lots away, tacking on another 20 minutes to walk to the building. Everyone was entertained and laughed and his boss shared the story with me after the team meeting. Now, his boss didn’t ask me what I thought, but of course I was curious with the validity of his tale. My instincts were right because when I went across campus for a noon meeting, I saw him getting in his car in the football parking lot to leave for lunch.”
“Think about it Lesa. Was it better, or worse, for him to add so much detail for being late? He could have said, my car wouldn’t start, I got stuck in traffic and then I couldn’t find a place to park. That wouldn’t have made it ok, to be late. But by providing a wild story with minute details, he entertained and distracted everyone enough that they dismissed his tardiness. Like I said, it isn’t a bulletproof process, but for me it’s a trigger. The more detail someone provides in situations where detail isn’t needed, the less likely they are being honest.”