Herman Cain Shows Why Truthfulness in the Workplace Is So Crucial

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In my recent post, "What to Do If One of Your Skeletons Gets Out of the Closet," I wrote about the need to learn from the lesson of Herman Cain, and to be upfront about it when past mistakes come back to haunt you. That lesson was reinforced yesterday, when Cain tried to get in front of the bombshell accusation that he had had a 13-year affair with Atlanta businesswoman Ginger White, without being upfront about it.


Cain went on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" to get the word out that the report was going to be broadcast by an Atlanta TV station, and to vehemently deny the accusation. In my capacity as a partner in QVerity, a company that does training and consulting in deception detection, I worked with two of my colleagues to prepare a behavioral analysis of the interview. Here's an excerpt from our analysis:

It is highly likely that Cain was involved in a sexual relationship with White. In his opening statements about White, Cain begins by saying, "This individual is going to accuse me of an affair for an extended period of time." When people are faced with an accusation that alleges wrongdoing or inappropriate behavior, they can't wait to say directly that they didn't do it. It is the most important fact that they want to get out on the table. If Cain didn't have an affair with this woman, this is the first and most natural point in the interview to say so. He fails to do so here and at a number of other key points in the interview.


The other significant behavior that reflects Cain's likely culpability in this matter relates to statements made during the interview that send a message that he doesn't realize he's sending. When he says to Blitzer, "Remember that the first two [accusations] were baseless-they were false accusations. They were not able to prove it," Cain is not denying that he had an affair. He is simply saying here that he doesn't believe she can prove it. The fact that this unintended message is repeated several times during the interview leads us to believe that [Cain was involved in a sexual relationship with White].

Our analysis goes on to conclude that it is almost certain that Cain had other relationships of this nature in his past. If that is the case, Cain's worst transgression isn't his past mistakes, but his choice to wantonly lie about them. A reader who commented on our post made this observation:

This is truly fascinating stuff. I think it is harder and harder to get good people to run for office because they fear the media prying. That said, if they would just tell the truth, people could forgive. Look at Clinton and Gingrich!!

That reader, of course, got it exactly right. We tend to forgive each other when we make mistakes, as long as we display the courage of owning up to them rather than the cowardice of lying about them.


In a September post, "How to Create a 'No Lying Zone' in Your Company," I wrote about Dave Anderson, a car-salesman-turned-leadership-guru and author who has come up with specific tips to promote truthfulness in the workplace, including this one:

Tell the truth at all costs-literally. You should tell the truth even when it is not easy, cheap, popular, or convenient. Selling a product at the right price (rather than a grossly inflated one that you are pretty sure you can get away with) may cost you more in the short term, but dishonesty and deception can end up costing you much more in the long run, in your professional and personal lives.

That advice has fallen on too many deaf ears, from the management at Infosys in response to allegations of visa fraud and abuse, to the FalconStor CFO in response to questions about his past at Computer Associates. The lesson of Herman Cain would serve as a great hearing aid if those with deaf ears would only use it.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 30, 2011 11:50 AM Paul Reynolds Paul Reynolds  says:

You have hit the nail on the head. Admit it, apologize and ask for another chance.  We see this in real life all the time - vitually never in the "unreal" life of politicians. 

Nov 30, 2011 6:49 PM SealTeam6 SealTeam6 SealTeam6 SealTeam6  says:

I think these days one cannot hope to rise as a politician or a "captain of industry" by being honest. The very nature of such professions either attracts dishonest people or makes the honest ones dishonest.

Dec 2, 2011 8:32 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

I could care less what he does in his private life - that's between him, his wife, and anyone else involved (if the allegations are true).

That said, anyone running for national office is subject to intense scrutiny.  A skeleton this big is sure to come out and there really isn't any recovery.  I think people with this type of skeleton should not enter in the first place.

It's not just about them.  I worked hard for John Edwards.  I had no clue what was going on in his private life, but as we all learned it was big enough to permanently end his political career.  He didn't win the primary, but if he had can you imagine the fallout!  Same goes for Cain.

It's selfish for these people to put our country at risk.  I'm glad we discovered this before the primaries.


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