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5 Ways to Avoid Being a Hypocritical Leader in 2023

published27 days ago
5 min read

As we move into 2023, most people will be making New Year’s resolutions, or at the very least, taking some time to think about what they hope to accomplish in the year ahead. While most business leaders will rightfully be focused on driving results and performance, they shouldn’t ignore the opportunity to self-reflect and contemplate how their behaviors might be affecting their people.

In fact, one of the cornerstones of effective leadership is a high level of self-awareness, which typically falls within the broader umbrella of emotional intelligence. Part of being a self-aware leader is having the ability to see when your actions don’t align with your words; that is, when you’re not “practicing what you preach.” This is what we call hypocrisy, and in the context of leadership, it can quickly erode the trust of your workforce.

Leadership hypocrisy can take on many forms, and there usually isn’t any intent to be deceitful. It could be as simple as wearing a suit and tie to a company meeting when you’ve told your team members to dress casually. Or it could be something more harmful, like encouraging your team members to work remotely but then going into the corporate office every day and praising employees when they go in as well.

Now, I don’t think any leader wants or aims to be a hypocrite. I think most leaders are doing their best to deal with the day-to-day demands of their role, and sometimes moments of hypocrisy slip through the cracks. I also know that there are longstanding assumptions about how a leader should act, and these can contribute to a myriad of hypocritical behaviors.

The issue is that when taken altogether, these small-scale instances of hypocrisy can add up to a much bigger problem at your organization. That’s because when leaders say one thing but then do another, it breeds a culture of distrust, where employees don’t feel that they can take you at your word. It also creates an environment where leaders are clearly being held to a different standard, and workers become confused about what is actually expected of them.

This is a dangerous situation for any organization to be in, but the good news is that it can easily be avoided. Leaders who are able to honestly reflect on their shortcomings — and seek out the feedback of others — can, over time, regain the trust of their people and create a culture where everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goals.

In today’s article I’ll describe 5 areas where leaders may inadvertently be sending the wrong message to their people, by acting in a way that doesn’t align with what they’ve said or committed to. Let’s take a look.

#1: Do encourage a culture of honest feedback
Don’t consider yourself above receiving criticism

No matter what you think of Elon Musk, his recent decision to create a poll asking whether he should step down as CEO of Twitter — and his commitment to abide by the results — was admirable in some ways. Of course, we now know that even though the poll results were in favor of him leaving, since then he’s stated that he’ll be reexamining this after various sources pointed out how easy it is to manipulate public polling.

I’m not suggesting this exact feedback mechanism for most leaders. However, I think there’s a lesson here for leaders about being open to receiving criticism from your workforce, even if it’s painful or uncomfortable for you. And the other side to this is being willing to then publicly share the feedback you’ve received from your team members, and follow this up with regular communications about how you’re addressing the issues they pointed out.

#2: Do encourage your employees to be their true selves at work
Don’t mask your own identity to conform to what a leader “should” look like

In PwC’s 2022 Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey, the ability to be one’s true self at work was ranked the third most important factor among employees considering a job change, coming in only behind being paid well and having a fulfilling job. Being able to bring your whole self to work can take on many meanings, from being open about your sexuality to letting your co-workers get a glimpse into your personal life or cultural background.

Many companies are doing a fantastic job of encouraging employees to be themselves, and this is having a real impact on inclusion and belonging at work. However, I think most leaders still feel a lot of pressure to “code-switch” or conform to traditional notions of what a leader should look like. But it’s time to kick this practice to the curb, because employees who see their leaders engaging in these behaviors will feel that hiding their own identity is the only way to succeed at their company.

#3: Do help your employees take care of their well-being
Don’t set a bad example of this in your own life

Research from my company and Deloitte found that 95% of the C-suite feels that executives should be responsible for their employees’ well-being. Most leaders are already enhancing their support, from offering better well-being benefits to making policy changes that allow employees to balance their work and personal lives more effectively (e.g., offering remote work arrangements).

However, some leaders aren’t setting the best example for their people. For example, only around 2 out of 3 executives use all of their vacation time, take breaks during the day, get enough sleep, and have enough time for friends and family. I think this issue is so pressing that I created a LinkedIn course, Managing Your Well-Being as a Leader, to help leaders understand why taking care of their health is so important and how it sets the tone for their entire organization.

#4: Do ask your employees for their input
Don’t just do nothing with their feedback

While most organizations have mechanisms in place to obtain people’s input, the reality is that they don’t always use this feedback. In fact, a 2021 study from my company and UKG found that 40% of employees don’t feel their feedback leads to actionable change. And when workers feel that their voice is being ignored, it creates a cycle where they won’t bother to provide feedback anymore because they know it won’t make a difference.

I understand that it won’t always be possible to give employees exactly what they want — but if you ask for their opinions, be prepared to do something. I also think that part of the issue here is that employees may not always see the behind-the-scenes decision-making that goes on with major organizational changes. So for 2023, commit to take employee voice more seriously and remember to communicate with your team members about how their feedback is being used.

#5: Do support employee learning and development
Don’t be unwilling to invest in your own growth

Coming out of the pandemic, workers have been more motivated than ever to develop their skills and progress their careers. In fact, new research from my company and Amazon found that around 2 out of 3 employees said it’s likely they’ll quit within the next year because there aren’t enough opportunities for skills development (64%) or career advancement (66%). Notably, these numbers were even higher among Millennials and Gen Z.

Given these findings, leaders would be wise to bolster their company’s L&D programs. However, they should also be setting a better example for their people by investing in their own learning and development. The challenge is that all too often, leaders think they’re too busy for this, or they feel that needing to learn something equates to admitting that they don’t know it all. But the reality is that no matter how great a leader you are, there’s always room for growth.

I hope this article has opened your eyes to a few ways in which you might improve your leadership capabilities in 2023. Thanks for reading, and be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts on this topic!