Toxic Untruthful Boss: Straight Talk for Law Enforcement

Today’s article is the third in our leadership series regarding Toxic Bosses in Law Enforcement.

All law enforcement agencies have robust policies that mandate truthfulness and prohibit dishonesty. Pre-employment, the profession incorporates polygraph examinations and extensive background investigations to eliminate those who use their tongues to deceive. One of the lessons emphasized in recruit school is to never tell a lie! It would follow logically that a profession that values veracity to the degree found in law enforcement would be unburdened by fabrication.

Thank goodness that integrity and candor resonate to the core of most public safety professionals. The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers do indeed personify high personal standards and perform righteously on a daily basis. The perplexing paradox for public safety is that there are many toxic managers who employ varying degrees of untruth in the execution of their daily duties. Those wanting in accuracy model behavior ranging from pathological lying, political deceit, lying for convenience, duplicity for personal gain, spinning the message, and dishonesty to cover their rear end.

15 Ways to Recognize a Toxic Untruthful Boss When You See One

Good actors

Can be charming and manipulative

Like to spin facts

Favorable documenters – will modify statistics & figures

Defensive reaction when a lie is challenged  

Expectation that others will be untruthful

Masters of embellishment 

Purposely misleads

Overemphasizes that they are telling the truth 

Lies to ward off trouble

Quick to cover up

Frequently changes their story

Likes to re-write history with their falsehoods

Suppresses facts

Fabricates accomplishments

How the Toxic Untruthful Boss is Impacting the Workplace     

Perversion of Integrity: The trust dynamic is applied consistently to both individuals and to their agencies. Deception causes the corrosion of worker integrity. The unhealthy erosion of innermost trust ensures that personal and business reliability perishes, putting both the individual and the agency on a slippery slope of vulnerability. Unimpeded lying can be invigorating to some, the more the liar gets away with the behavior the more they will use the ploy. Lies also tend to become bigger and bigger over time.

Culture of Mistrust and Dysfunction: Dishonest management is reflective of a dysfunctional organizational culture. Trust can take years to cultivate, yet literally be broken in the twinkling of an eye. Deceitfulness and pretense will cause a community to lose faith in their officers. Residents rely on equitable motives and behaviors to maintain public confidence. The level of trust between the community and their public servants is directly proportional to the crime fighting success of the agency.

Duty to Lie Workplace: Sadly, those entrusted with leadership and supervisory responsibilities are often the worst Pinocchios’ in the law enforcement profession. Exploiting privacy as a smokescreen, lying bosses sometimes use the excuse of secrecy to cover their misdeeds. Other toxic untruthful managers constantly slant the message to employees, reasoning that the bad behavior is either “for their own good” or “they don’t need to know.” Still others in authority are experts at lying by omission, or not telling the whole truth. CYA seems to be the quantitative king of workplace dishonesty when untruthfulness becomes a supervisory habit.

Prolonged Damage:  Verbal naughtiness produces a workforce full of discord, skepticism, and cynicism. Spoken caginess destroys reputations and creates charlatans. Deceit can be devastating if used illicitly to alter the course or outcome of official proceedings. Individual workers whose personal moral code is in conflict with agency values will at best be less productive and emotionally detached, crippling organizational morale. The department itself becomes immoral when dishonest conduct is systematic.

Where Do We Go From Here

The dangers caused by the toxic untruthful boss are incredibly acute, yet, there are still managers who feel that the telling of lies is an acceptable cost of doing business. Whether the lying boss realizes it or not, immersion in a fraudulent culture damages the vital working relationship between employees and management. Employees do not believe anything that comes from the mouth of the dyed-in-the-wool falsifier. There may as well be a “No Trust Zone” sign hanging around the supervisor’s neck.

Many toxic managers wouldn’t recognize the truth if it slapped them in the face. Sadly, nearly every officer has seen underhanded bosses who eagerly use twisted facts and misrepresentations as a basis for allegations of misconduct. This type of illicit manipulation should be grounds for termination of employment. Everyone in the chain-of-command must be held to the same standards of accountability. Agencies that choose to turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of their bosses are complicit in the degradation of integrity, which is the very basis of our industry foundation.     

Dishonesty and lying should never a formula that leads to success. Law enforcement has a duty to eliminate the hypocrisy of the toxic boss who consistently lies to direct reports. Chiefs and high-ranking officials MUST be truth tellers. Whether they reside at the top or the bottom of the organization, public safety agencies cannot codify employees who are proven liars. It is absolutely imperative that those entrusted with leadership positions not reward toxic untruthful bosses for their bad behavior.



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1 Comment

  1. Police Chaplain

    Well done Steve. I have worked for a couple of chiefs who fit this to a “T.”

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