Steven's Blog

Unconscious Hypocrisy

Most hypocrisy is committed unconsciously, and only with the best intentions by otherwise intelligent and capable leaders. A leader creates a corporate culture through his or her behavior, whether consciously or not.

That is why unconscious hypocrisy can be such an insidious problem to resolve for those in leadership.

Not so long ago, a leader of a European business in Japan told me he wants to get his managers and staff to be more proactive in proposing and acting on new ideas to improve the business rather than their habit of waiting for guidance and approval from above. Such a change in behavior can make a big difference in his bottom line, he told me, and it would.

He is convinced I can help him, and he is right.

Yet, even though he has the budgetary authority to invest in my services, he hesitates, worrying about what his boss in Europe might think of the expenditure. He even hesitates to ask, out of concern about how his boss might react to the question. So, he waits for the timing to be right to broach the subject with his boss. In my experience, the timing is never right for such managers, and tentativeness becomes their modus operandi. More importantly, he was oblivious to fact that he was behaving towards his boss in the same way that his staff was behaving toward him, and that he himself was unwilling to make the change that he expected of those under him.

It is unrealistic for a leader to expect his or her staff to behave in a way that he or she is unwilling to behave themselves. Had I not pointed this out, this leader might still be mired in the same self-imposed predicament.

A vice-president of sales of a consumer product company told me how her staff is habitually compromising trade terms with customers by accepting returns on product that didn’t sell out. The salespeople fear that they will not be able to sell in the next season’s line if they don’t abide with the request for returns, and so they give in. The vice president could not figure out why the sales staff felt this was OK. At the same time, she has a non-performing senior veteran manager on staff, who by all rights should have been fired some years ago. So why is he still on the payroll? Because she and the CEO fear losing business with a key customer, with whom the sales manager has a long relationship. If the goal is to preserve a business relationship, how different is compromising on trade terms with a customer to compromising on performance terms with a veteran manager? The vice president had been completely unaware of the connection. She is now enlightened.

The cause of behavioral issues in an organization doesn’t always start or end with the leader’s behavior, but you would be surprised how many do. Do you see a behavior problem in the organization you lead that you would like to change? Check your own behavior first.

If you find that you have been unconsciously hypocritical, great! There is no shame in self-awareness as long as you act to make the change. Click To Tweet

Appropriate behavior is always communicated through metaphor. Make sure that your own behaviors serve as the right metaphors for the behaviors you would like to see in your staff.


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