20 Ways to Detect a Deceitful Leader

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

Detecting Deceitful Leaders

Have you ever had an uneasy feeling that a leader is not as genuine or sincere as you would expect? There are numerous signals and behaviors that distinguish a genuine leader from someone who is simply trying to achieve a personal—perhaps deceitful—agenda. If you observe carefully, you can find what is causing the uneasy feeling.

Listed in the following comparison are ways to distinguish between genuine leadership and a person in a leadership position who has hidden motives. Some behaviors are stated in the extreme— just to emphasize the point. Deceitful leaders are also very good at what they do, so observe them closely.




Comparison: True Leaders and Deceitful Leaders


  1. Leaders bring people together for common goals. Deceitful Leaders divide people and focus on narrow issues that may be part of an unstated, deceitful goal.


  1. Leaders encourage open, direct communication. Deceitful Leaders display a low tolerance for open communication. They control information.


  1. Leaders solicit and consider opposing views and positions. Deceitful Leaders exhibit little tolerance for opposing views. They may reject opposing views or ideas without consideration and limit debate.


  1. Leaders use larger goals to energize and unite people. Deceitful Leaders use divisive, negative characterization of issues and groups to energize followers.


  1. Leaders are transparent, have an open agenda and stated purposes. Deceitful Leaders carefully manage issues and what people hear. They often have a hidden agenda.


  1. Leaders stick to values, principles and ethical guidelines. Deceitful Leaders will use the “end justifies the means” to achieve objectives.


  1. Leaders listen attentively. Deceitful Leaders talk more than listen. They occasionally shout or “preach.”


  1. Leaders show respect for each individual. Deceitful Leaders respect only those who are like-minded and disenfranchise those who are not like-minded.


  1. Leaders want individuals to thrive and work from principles and values. They encourage individual initiative. Deceitful Leaders want control and dutiful obedience; “punishing” those who are “out of line.”   Individual initiative is rarely appreciated.


  1. Leaders use facts and logic. Deceitful Leaders use emotions (with bias toward negative ones).


  1. Leaders share data and influence with clearly stated facts, options and conclusions. Deceitful Leaders state conclusions and positions with limited substance and fact. They may use charged rhetoric or misleading data.


  1. Leaders propose in broad context and rationale. Deceitful Leaders work on narrow issues one at time; ignoring or downplaying related topics.


  1. Leaders delegate within broad guidelines and principles that allow individual judgment. Deceitful Leaders give orders and specific direction sometimes without rationale.


  1. Leaders use positional authority as a last resort to make decisions. Deceitful Leaders do not hesitate to use positional authority to further an agenda.


  1. Leaders are balanced in words, actions and demeanor. They are always respectful. Deceitful Leaders often appear extreme in words, actions and demeanor. Their behavior is outside the norm and can be disrespectful.


  1. Leaders focus on the positive and the possible. Deceitful Leaders focus on the negative; even use antagonism to motivate or justify.


  1. Leaders demonstrate humility. Deceitful Leaders lack humility.


  1. Leaders do not manipulate. They are always transparent and sincere. Deceitful Leaders use manipulative behaviors to achieve goals.


  1. Leaders are truthful, candid and straightforward at all times. Deceitful Leaders often mislead with half-truths, lies of omission, feigned ignorance or rationalization.


  1. Leaders encourage individuals to do their best and take measured risks. Deceitful Leaders criticize, intimidate and blame.


Deceitful leaders can be found in every profession. Probably the most noticeable ones are in public or governmental positions striving for specific ideals or causes, but regardless of profession, there are people in leadership positions that simply want to drive a deceitful, personal agenda.

Not every deceitful leader will demonstrate all the behaviors listed, but if you notice any of them, be on alert. Sometimes the behavior arises only on certain issues or initiatives, but if observed at all, you should be cautious.

If you examine some of your own experiences, you will probably recall these behaviors in action and may even be able to add to the list.


For more information about manipulative behavior, I recommend Dr. George Simon’s book, In Sheeps Clothing – Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People.






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