Hypocrisy, a Failure of Leadership

Ed Baldwin Coaching, COVID-19, Ed Baldwin, Good HR, Leadership

If your news feed has been even remotely similar to mine over the past week (or months for that matter), then it hasn’t been hard to find lots of examples of leaders being hypocrites.  Leaders whose actions defy common sense and the values/image that we want our leaders to uphold.  And this week’s dose of leadership hypocrisy stems from something important to all of us; our health and a virus that has killed over 260k Americans and counting.  I guess yet another ugly societal truth exposed by 2020, full courtesy of the COVID pandemic. 

Maybe the truth just isn’t as important as it used to be.  Here are a few of the headlines that have jumped off the screen in my news feed in the past week:

Denver’s mayor urged residents to avoid Thanksgiving travel, then flies cross-country to see family

Urging your constituents to avoid unnecessary travel, and then less than an hour later getting on a plane to go see your family?  Yes, that’s exactly what the mayor did.  And sure, he apologized, but his explanation for his actions was that his decision was “borne of my heart and not my head”.  Does that make it ok? 

All Broncos quarterbacks ruled out because of COVID exposure, violated NFL rules

Because four quarterbacks playing for the same team voluntarily chose to ignore NFL and team rules and NOT to wear masks when together, all have been ruled out for the Broncos game against the New Orleans Saints.  Not only did they put their immediate teammates in danger with indignant disregard for what they clearly knew was important, they also managed to collectively harpoon their team’s chances of winning a game that admittedly, they probably would have lost anyway.  And what was their punishment?  Good question.   

NFL coaches and teams fined for not wearing face masks

Have you watched any NFL games this year?  Have you watched the sidelines where masks are to be worn, properly at all times, as leaders and to protect their players and all around them?  If you have then you’ve seen the epitome of hypocritical behavior! 

Occasionally you can find an NFL coach properly wearing his mask during the game, typically while they pace the sideline and aren’t talking to anyone other than through a headset.  And then when they call a timeout or need to speak with players or an umpire in close proximity they pull their mask down over their chin and proceed to yell eyeball to eyeball!  Such actions at my company would warrant immediate termination.  And the consequences to this behavior being displayed by nearly every coach of every NFL game played this season?  Three coaches and teams have been fined.  Coaches making millions of dollars a year have been fined $100k.  For one of the coaches fined that’s was almost 1% of his annual salary.  Big whoop.

The point of this post isn’t to make a political statement.  Nor is it to bash the NFL or their coaches. 

The point of this post is to share how much hypocrisy is eroding leadership trust and integrity.  And to make certain we aren’t contributing to this pandemic of a different sort. 

As leaders, as HR pros, and as colleagues and friends we need to be on the right side of this equation. 

Not contributing to do as I say, not as I do.

According to Frank Sonnenberg there are 23 ways to spot a hypocrite.  I personally would suggest there are even more.  But some of my favorites from his list:

  • Act one way when folks are looking; the opposite when they’re not
  • Treat those in power differently than they act toward underlings
  • Make rules but fail to follow the rules themselves
  • Demand things of others that they’re unwilling to do themselves
  • Say one thing to someone’s face but another thing behind their back
  • Penalize some folks for wrongdoings but look the other way for others

As HR pros we are often called upon to be the conscience of the organization for which we work.  It’s a misplaced burden, since it’s actually the responsibility of ALL leaders to be the conscience of the organization and live the values the company ascribes.  But inevitably as HR, we are asked to lead from the front. 

So let’s do it.  When called on to root out and address hypocrisy that might be present in our organizations, we first need to call on all leaders to join us.  Join us in identifying hypocritical actions, collectively acknowledging them as wrong, pledging to correct the behavior, and then organizationally learning from each misstep.    

Leadership is hard, made harder when we take on the burden alone.  Leadership is a team sport.