“When people talk, they lay lines on each other, do a lot of role playing, sidestep, shilly-shally and engage in all manner of vagueness and innuendo. We do this and expect others to do it, yet at the same time we profess to long for the plain truth, for people to say what they mean, simple as that. Such hypocrisy is a human universal” ~ Steven Pinker
Recent events in Charlotte, North Carolina, have caused outrage across the United States and around the world – complicated (or perhaps exacerbated) by the President of the United States’ public statements in relation it. There are many things to love about the US… but at this particular point in time I’m very pleased I live in New Zealand. A place that quite a few Americans cannot find on a map – mostly because New Zealand is quite often left off the world map altogether.
From this distance though, one of the things that struck me about the social media debate on these issues was that those on the left appeared to be saying if you don’t ‘rise up’ against racism, you are condoning it. The implication being that racism per se is so egregious that it deserves to be met with force.
I agree that all bias (conscious or unconscious) that alienates, marginalises, or demeans another human being (or justifies/normalises these things) is bad.
However I also believe that some behaviours are wrong – even if the cause is just.
Why am I sharing this and what does it have to do with leadership?
Language is so important. I hate the word procrastination, because it’s basically a fancy ‘corporate’ word for laziness. Nobody wants to be lazy – but I’ve heard serious people proudly saying “I’m a chronic procrastinator”. No. You’re lazy.
We have to be careful the language we choose – because therein lies the slippery slope…
I’m concerned about the extent to which we talk about authenticity and “walking the talk” in relation to leadership, rather than “not being a hypocrite”.
We say “Fred isn’t seen as authentic, he has a perception problem, or a personal branding problem”. No, he is a hypocrite.
Millennials get a bad rap for expecting a lot from the people who deign to lead them. Millennials aren’t turned off by leaders who are inauthentic. The just don’t like hypocrites, and are a bit more forthright in exercising their ability to change jobs as a consequence.
So in this post, I’m going to try and use plain language – or maybe even direct language – to outline the ways that you, as a leader who doesn’t want to be hypocrite (also known as wanting to be authentic), can go about making sure that is the case.
Bring your whole self to work
In this era of social media and big data, you can’t get away with being a different person outside of work than who you are at work. You will be found out.
You aren’t just your job. And you aren’t just the ‘company line’. You are a human being, and so are your employees. If you see injustice or inequity – say something. Try and fix it. But don’t pretend it never happened. That is hypocrisy. That is not authenticity.
Don’t condone activity/behaviour at work that is at odds with your values
You will never feel more ‘icky’ (the technical term for conflicted or ‘at odds’) than when you feel you are called upon to do something (or condone something) that you find morally wrong.
Some managers struggle to lay-off employees when a business unit is restructured because they don’t believe in the changes being made – or they are opposed to people getting laid off when they haven’t actually done anything wrong. People who feel this way probably shouldn’t accept management positions. Inevitably they will be put in a position of being forced to resign – or doing something that they cannot live with. This is hypocrisy. This is not authenticity.
Apply the golden rule
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…
Or if you’re pretty lax about what you tolerate in terms of how people treat you, substitute someone that would make you raise your standards. Your mum. Or your daughter.
It’s such a simple rule – and if you remember to ask yourself, “would I want someone to treat me this way?” you’ll get most of the way to authenticity (and lack of hypocrisy).
Mind your language
No I don’t mean swearing and cursing – although if that’s a problem for you, then feel free to interpret it that way!
What I mean is really be mindful of what you say. People do listen to you. Believe it or not. And sometimes they even understand what you are saying!
Don’t lie. If you don’t know – say so. If you commit to do something, do it. If you commit to not doing something, don’t do it.
If you say you really value your people – what are you doing to demonstrate that?
If you say you are committed to customer service excellence, how do you show that every single day?
If you expect your employees to be responsive to constructive criticism, how do you respond when you are criticised?
A disconnect between what you say and what you do is hypocrisy. It is not authenticity.
If the biggest tell that someone isn’t being authentic is that their actions don’t match their words…
Use less words!
Listening is a good idea anyway, so this one is a bit of a no-brainer.
If you have to talk, ask questions. Also a good idea. Shows you don’t think you have all the answers!
I want to help you to lead. Not from a position of power, but from exactly where you are now.
So I’m writing a book specifically for you. It’ll be out early next year (28 February 2018 to be precise).
If you’d like to know more, please sign up for my newsletter (I don’t spam, just a weekly newsletter) where I’ll keep you up to date on progress, test some ideas, and even share a preview or two as we get closer to launch-day.
Let’s do this!