Though running a small business is largely a micro-economic affair, the increasingly grave macro-economic climate is hanging heavy over the 2008 Inc. 500 conference in D.C., where federal lawmakers on Friday were preparing to intervene in the nation's shaky financial system.

Top advisors for Barack Obama and John McCain will tackle these and other issues at the conference later in the day.

Entrepreneurs here are clearly frustrated with the leaders of top mortgage and financial firms, whose questionable behavior — not least of which is what now appears to be bold faced lies to board members and the public -- is certain to make it much trickier to access the kind of credit they'll need to continue growing their businesses.

But are we wrong to always expect honesty and decency from the heads of giant corporations? That is, should leaders never lie?

Management guru Tom Peters isn't so sure. He told hundreds of small-business owners gathered here for a main-stage discussion on entrepreneurial trends, that CEOs are often surrounded by ambiguity. "Most of the time you don't know if you're telling the truth or not," Peters said.

For Seth Godin, the author of Permission Marketing and other national best sellers, the question isn't whether leaders should tell the truth. He said what leaders need to do is lead — and the best way to do that is through honesty and decency. That means being transparent, taking care of employees with health-care coverage and other benefits, and, yes, telling the truth.

After all, Godin said, that's how the vast majority of Inc. 500 businesses got to where they are today — the nation's fastest growing private companies.

While greed may be good, decency pays.