Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” In The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner identified five practices through their research that ordinary people who produce extraordinary results do habitually. The first of these is model the way. The successful leaders they studied had great clarity about their personal values, their credo. In their leadership role in organizations they took great care to set the example for others, consciously aligning their behaviors to their values. When word and deed do not match, leaders are branded as hypocrites. And hypocrites find that they lose the power of influencing others to make a personal commitment. We simply will not voluntarily follow those we cannot trust. A manager that has lost credibility rules by compliance, using the power of carrot and stick to enforce standards of performance. Compliance is only as good as the manager’s ability to deal out the carrot and sticks. Commitment trumps compliance every time. Think about those house chores we all need to do…some we do because we want to, others we do because we have to. I have to clean my garage, I want to work in my garden. Guess which one looks better!
As leaders we need to understand these tough times have increased the scrutiny on our behaviors. When we are asking others to cut back on expenses, do they see us doing the same? Even if you can afford it, maybe it isn’t the time to buy the Porsche. Complaining about your torturous travel schedule to Italy and Spain won’t gain much sympathy from your employees who had to forgo a customer visit in Chicago because of travel restrictions. And drop the corporate jet! Bill Gates flies coach, so can you. Anytime you invoke the “do as I say, not as I do” approach, you have harmed your credibility, and depleted the currency of leadership. Oh, and by the way, you have harmed organizational performance!
A friend, and one of the best CEO’s I have ever encountered, said to me once. “My values are aspirational. I don’t always live up to them.” I suggest there is a fundamental misunderstanding here. Goals may be aspirational. But you either have a value or you do not. I aspire to weigh 170 lbs. I am not there yet. It is an aspirational goal. But I value being healthy. You will know that by what I eat, how often I exercise, and countless other behaviors I exhibit. If I say someday I will start exercising, then someday I will value health. When it comes to values, I judge you by current behaviors, not your intent.
Of course we are human. Leaders screw up and sometimes make choices that could send a message counter to an espoused value. Most of us want to be led by human beings, and humans are fallible. Great leaders acknowledge the bumps along the way, apologize, and correct them. Hoping others didn’t notice is a flawed strategy. They did.
It is another rainy day here in Michigan. Looking at my to do list, I was thinking I would stay in the dry office and get busy taking care of it. I can exercise tomorrow. Oops, no. I am going to head to the gym for an hour. Hypocrisy is just a bad thing.