My son was watching a show on TV the other day and heard the word “hypocrite”. Curious as always, he asked me what it meant and I told him it had to do with saying one thing and doing the opposite. He pondered this for a moment before deciding, with great sincerity, that I was a hypocrite.
Needless to say, I was floored. I demanded an example and he fired off several without even missing a beat, things like eating vegetables and going to bed at a reasonable hour right at the top of his list. Setting aside the parent/child paradigm for a moment, I started to think about the nature of hypocrisy and whether the label had merit in the work place. In much the same way that my son looked at me as not living out my own instructions, I wondered if employees thought the same thing of their bosses.
The truthful answer? Yes, we’re all guilty of some form of hypocrisy. There are times when we set forth requirements we’re not planning to adhere to ourselves, or provide instruction we’re not prepared to follow. Is that just the perk of being the boss? Sometimes. But it pays to be sensitive to how our workforce is viewing our actions and what effect that may have on their morale. Nobody wants to follow a leader who isn’t prepared to lead the charge or give extra effort for a leader that isn’t putting forth their own effort.
A better question might be: what’s the difference between hypocrisy plan old good advice? After all, the school of hard knocks is sometimes the best teacher around and letting someone else benefit from your experiences can be invaluable for them. So if I tell someone, one of my employees or even one of my children, to avoid making the same mistake I made, am I being a hypocrite? In my mind, the answer lies in whether I can follow my own advice or not. If I tell an employee to show up to meetings on time but I don’t do the same, I’m being a hypocrite. However, if I tell them to invest in their 401k as soon as they start working and I’m past that age, I’m providing advice.
It’s a subtle difference but an important one nonetheless.