Practicing What You Preach: 4 Steps to Combat Hypocrisy in Your Leadership

Practicing What You Preach: 4 Steps to Combat Hypocrisy in Your Leadership

Have you ever walked away from a situation and said to yourself “I should have said…”? Or worse, you found yourself holding back in the moment when you knew that you had something to say? These situations can generate feelings of hypocrisy, which is especially difficult as a leader. Leadership is often associated with strength, whereas hypocrisy is more closely tied to weakness. Leaders are expected to be role models and not being able to “walk the talk” when it matters most can greatly diminish one’s confidence in leading others. 

Effectively Leading Through Your Weaknesses 

As I was thinking through my own weaknesses, it led me to the question: “How can you effectively coach someone in an area that you struggle with yourself?” It made me think of two scenarios where I fell short on practicing what I preach.

Situation #1

During an employee social activity, an employee made an inappropriate comment. I should have said something to the employee, but I didn’t. Since I spend a lot of time teaching people to be assertive and to speak up to promote a better workplace environment, I was left questioning myself.  

Situation #2

Then, a few weeks later, it happened again. I was at a 4-year-old’s birthday party and my son began eating his pasta with his fingers instead of the silverware, which was pretty messy, but I felt the need to take a break from correcting him during a party. Another parent sitting across from us began making comments to his own son about proper eating techniques, but was clearly directing the comments to my child. Even worse, my child noticed he was being chastised for his eating and became uncomfortable, but I didn’t say anything to the other parent.  

Overcoming the Weaknesses

In this case, the targeted behavior is speaking up. It’s a behavior that I excel at in many situations, but I have realized that I don’t do it in all cases.  It begs the question; do you have to role model all the behaviors that you wish to see in others? Or can your flaws be a leadership trait in themselves? Too often we focus on leadership development as being your best self and showing others the correct path through triumph and strength, but maybe we aren’t looking at the whole picture. Perhaps the most effective leaders are the ones that can lead through ‘own weaknesses? 

4 Steps to Combat Hypocrisy

If you are like me and you find yourself conflicted because you don’t always demonstrate the behaviors that you have to coach on, then take a look at these four tips and download my coaching template. (insert hyperlink) 

  1. Acknowledge your weaknesses 

Let’s face it, we are not perfect. There isn’t a single person that can be great at everything and your skills will continue to be challenged throughout your career. The strongest leaders recognize their own flaws and keep moving forward. If you let your flaws hold you back, then your strengths don’t get used either.  

Here are two situations I faced where I felt like a hypocrite and how I acknowledged the weakness.

Two recent situations left me feeling like a hypocrite and it lead me to the question “Can you be an effective leader if you personally struggle with what you are guiding others to do?” I believe you can, as long as you take the time to acknowledge the weakness, identify trends, visualize future success, and continually practice the positive behavior.  

Taking this a step further, you can use your weakness to coach others. Next time you are coaching someone in an area that you still working on, own it. Letting the person you are coaching know that this particular area is hard for you, too, can be powerful in itself. It humanizes you and makes you more approachable which can build the relationship with the person you are coaching.  

  1. Look for the trends 

When you handle a situation differently than you wished you would have, take a moment to think about the situation. What isn’t sitting right with you? What could you have done differently? In my case, why didn’t I speak up? See if you can pick out the common theme(s) in the situations. This deeper exploration of yourself will help you identify the root issue that can be your developmental focus moving forward.  

In my examples, I started asking myself – Why didn’t I speak up? In both situations I found a theme. When a situation feels personal (i.e. connected to someone I care about or my core values) I have had a tendency to over-react. Not wanted to make a scene I opted to not say anything. I realize that this isn’t the right approach, but at least I know what I need to focus on to be a better leader (and parent) moving forward.  

  1. Visualize your future success 

Picture a few situations that you might find yourself in moving forward that would challenge you. Imagine handling those situations exactly as you are coaching others to handle them. The more detailed the picture, the more likely you are to commit to those behaviors when a similar situation comes up.  

  1. Consistently Practice Your Leadership Skills 

As you continue to develop as a leader, remember that you will fall short sometimes. It’s not a reason to give up. Instead it’s a reason to keep trying. Not only will practice help you build your leadership skills, it will help you reduce the feeling of dissonance and hypocrisy.  

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