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Avoiding leadership hypocrisy

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

Around my house lately, my children have started noticing when words don't align with actions. Turns out, that happens pretty early in our life. It made me consider the idea of "leadership hypocrisy" and various things that can get in the way of leadership integrity or leadership congruence.

There is a commonly utilized phrase (attributed to many, so I am not going to try - and own it is not my own thought) - we judge others by their actions, and we judge ourselves by our intentions.

When as a leader we hold others to a higher standard than we exhibit, it is often because internally we know our intentions are good but maybe life has complicated things, so we didn’t reach the standard we set for others. This might look like the executive who is stressed out who raises their voice to someone in the organization and the next day is telling people they need to “team well” and treat each other respectfully. In the head of the leader, they know their day was hard and that is why they behaved the way they did. The person on the receiving end of the raised voice and who listened to the leader share what they want the company to do likely feels a strong feeling of cognitive dissonance and possibly distrust in the leader. Sometimes it can be an expectation about availability or responsiveness; a leader might think... why is this person not available right now and at the same time, that same leader feels okay with not responding right now to others.

It is this disconnect - a leader viewing their actions through a lens of intent and others viewing behaviors as lacking consistency, congruency, or even hypocritical. Sometimes these disconnects are bold messages about an organization; sometimes the disconnect is a task not done, which is actually a commitment not kept. Folkman (2022) reminded readers that trust can be lost in the commitments that we do not meet and that too often a leader makes more than they can keep.

What can we do as leaders?

In Relation to Yourself

  • Practice ... now making your commitments. Return the email, make the call, have the hard conversation.

  • Track ... yes, this one is trying to keep all the balls in the year and ensuring they land in the hands of the right people.

  • Own It ... when you don't. Notice it doesn't say "if" you don't. That is intentional. Yes, leaders are human, and yes, they make mistakes. Unfortunately, many leaders, when they do make a mistake, miss a commitment, or have behavior that does not match their words, will judge themselves by the good intentions and the stress or pressure they are under.

In Relation to Others

  • Pause ... (yes, this one is a must for me) before reacting to a situation in which your standards may not be congruent.

  • Give ... grace to those who misstep; the pause can help with this step. It's much easier to give grace when you pause and realize that you might be holding someone to a different (and likely higher) standard than you are holding yourself. Covey (2021) suggested that leaders need to "embrace a growth mindset - not just for yourself" (p. 256). I have long been a fan of Dr. Carol Dweck's work, reminding us how our brains can enable success or get in the way.

  • Teach ... a practice I developed over time is when I am personally in a moment of wanting to judge someone else, I shift in to both curiosity and teaching.

Whether in a formal leadership role or practicing cultivating leadership practices without a formal role, practicing what is often referred to as "walking your talk" is easier said than done. Words can be easy to say and are much harder to follow through with, especially when we are busy, stressed, hungry, angry, tired, frustrated, disappointed, sad ... (many aspects of being human can contribute to us not showing up in the best way possible for others.)


Covey, S. (2021). Trust and Inspire.

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Folkman, J. (2022) Trifecta of Trust.

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