Brandt on Leadership -- Lies, Lies and More Lies

March 9, 2008
Translating what the guy across the table really means.

Young managers often start their careers without realizing that many of the bosses, colleagues, customers and vendors they are about to meet will just as soon lie to them as breathe. To help these neophytes sort out truth from fiction, we offer the following glossary of phrases:

"Let's do lunch." Translation: There's not a chance in hell we're going to do lunch, or else I would have already pulled out my Blackberry and scheduled it. There is, however, some small chance you might be useful to me later on, so I'm pretending that in an alternate universe, you're actually important enough to spend time with. But don't bet on it.

"No one will ever know," or sometimes, "We'll fudge the numbers just this once." Translation: I really need you to do this, and I will say anything to get you to go along. Plus, after you do it once, I'll own you, at least until we both go to jail.

"It's not really a demotion." It's not only a demotion, you're lucky you still have a job.

"You can trust me." Button the flap over your wallet.

"I'll take care of you." Like Michael Corleone took care of Fredo.

"It's only for one year," or "Look at it as an opportunity." You are about to pass out of all reckoning on your way to corporate Siberia. Dress warmly, and don't feed the polar bears.

"You're my right-hand man," or "You're the guy -- I just can't give you the promotion right now." I'm using all your hard work to look good to my bosses, but they don't even know you exist. As soon as I get my own promotion out of here, I'll lose your number so fast it'll make your head spin.

"The check is in the mail." We're declaring bankruptcy next week.

"I'd help if I could." Or if I cared.

"If it were me, I wouldn't worry about it." You're a goner.

"I forgot to copy you on that e-mail," or "I forgot to put you on the meeting invite." I thought I could pull an end-run on you, but somebody snitched. I'll be more careful next time.

"It's not your fault." I'm telling everybody who'll listen that it's your fault

"That's just our standard contract language -- don't worry about it." Our lawyers worked 20 years for Satan himself, coming up with clauses so ruthless and ironclad they made the Old Man weep with joy. Save us both time and turn over the keys to your business now.

"The deal is in the bag. Light a cigar!" I've sent your proposal (which was very good, by the way) to three other firms, and their bids will be here Monday. Thanks for writing the RFP.

"Of course you can start work without a purchase order." You won't get paid, but you can start the work. We'll renegotiate the fee later, after you're halfway through and running out of cash.

"I know you're disappointed not to get the contract, but cheer up -- you're in our plans!" And will stay there forever, and not in an actual budget, as we continue to hire the same hacks we've used for years. They may not be talented or cheap, but they sure buy good lunches!

"There's no way they'll cut our department. We're too valuable." Management already guaranteed me a transfer in writing, but you and the rest of these losers are on your own. Good luck with the resume!

John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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