Everybody’s heard the adage “Physician Heal Thyself.” It refers to the notion that when giving advice one must first have their actions match their speaking. Said another way, if you are going to dispense words of wisdom, then it is incumbent on you that you operate consistent with your counsel. When the speaking and behavior don’t match up, it’s called hypocrisy. It would be like an overweight doctor telling the patient to lose weight for their health, and then later that day seeing that same doctor driving through a fast food chain restaurant getting “super-sized.”
Part of our work involves educating and developing competent managers to become leaders. We do so by distinguishing what leadership really is. Leadership is all about character and modeling that character in your actions. Leadership stands on four foundational factors. They are: integrity, authenticity, being committed to something bigger than oneself, and being “cause” in the matter.*
If you think about these four factors, you can easily see how each of these become pillars for being a leader. The first factor, integrity, is pretty obvious. Without it, nothing works. Integrity creates a foundation of reliability and trust. Second, authenticity has everything to do with being aware of who you hold yourself to be, i.e. walking the talk. To do that, you have to know your blind spots. Third, being committed to something bigger than yourself is fundamental to leadership because if you’re all about you, you’re not believing in and demonstrating anything that people will find themselves identifying with, and therefore will not follow. To be a leader requires followers. Last, and most challenging, is being “cause” in matter. This requires an existential leap of being the owner of, and taking responsibility for, things you probably did not do. Yet if you are “cause” in the matter, then you are willing to deal with it as though whatever happens is your personal responsibility. Each of these are key components; leadership will not happen if any of those four is missing. Leadership depends on all four of those legs of character being solid and intact.
I often see things that are inconsistent with the character of leadership. Here’s a recent example: The other night before the State of the Union Address I was scrolling Facebook, which I use for both entertainment and to stay connected with family and friends. As I was scrolling I saw the following post:
“State of the Union: INAUTHENTICITY & NO INTEGRITY.
Be prepared to be bamboozled newly, America.”
At first I was amused that someone took the time to warn us all. Thank you, Chicken Little. But when I saw who posted it, I was somewhat taken aback because I know this person and know that this person teaches people about communication. They make their living teaching some of the same character values discussed above, and effective communication requires openness. This post did not reflect openness. In fact, it reflected a very narrow point of view that had been concluded before they heard a word of the State of the Union Address. Communication is a key factor in organizational effectiveness. Most people would agree the following things are critical:
- Walk into a situation with an open mind and with no conclusions made
- Fully listen to what the other person has to say
- Try not to prejudge the speaker
If you look at this post, it has none of those things. Yet the person who posted it would claim to be an expert on coaching in the area of communication. What I read was clearly the opposite of that and doesn’t represent what this person espouses. It struck me that if this person could be that blind to how inconsistent what they are posting on social media is with what they teach ~ and I consider this person a fairly aware person ~ the same must be true for others, including myself. Said simply, what this person posted and what they teach suddenly appeared as pure hypocrisy. They spoke their formed opinion and had decided it was the truth. They presented it as if it was the truth. And that is inconsistent with what I know about communication. I suppose we’re all guilty of that at some level. I chose not to add a comment to the Facebook post. I may contact the person directly to share my observation.
Here’s what I discovered for myself over the years in delivering transformational work in organizations: if you do not practice what you preach, if you do not walk the talk, there is no way you will be effective in delivering that character to other people. They will be able to see through the inauthenticity like reading a 10-cent novel and will know that this is only “do as I say, not as I do.” Nobody wants to sign up for getting conned at that level. Bottom line, if you’re going to preach it or teach it, start with what you’re going to do to demonstrate that for yourself and model it to others. Walk the Talk.
*Taken from Being a Leader and the Effective Exercise of Leadership – W. Erhard, M. Jensen
Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.