“The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity.” — Andrй Gide, French writer who won the 1947 Nobel Prize for literature

An entrepreneur decided it was time to give his daughter, a recent business-school graduate, a lesson “in the real world.” “In business, ethics are very important,” he began. “Say, for instance, that a client comes in and settles his hundred-dollar account in cash. After he leaves, you notice a second hundred-dollar bill stuck to the first one. Immediately you are presented with an ethical dilemma…” The entrepreneur paused, “should you tell your partner?”

Hypocrisy is “the practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.” The word has its roots in part from a Greek word meaning, “to play a part, pretend.” I have come to believe that there are two types of hypocrisy: 1. Deceiving or being untrue to others; and 2. Deceiving or being untrue to myself. The first type of hypocrisy is detestable. It’s an intentional attempt to fool someone else. The second type is sad. It’s an unintentional lack of self-awareness.

In Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance, Lady Hunstanton says to Mrs. Allonby, “How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a single word you say.” Some people seem to feel that leadership is about image and appearances. They try to look and act the part. They work hard at faking their sincerity. They’re about as authentic as “natural vinyl.” Everyone’s “phony detectors” are getting ever better at spotting this leadership acting. We can quickly see the difference between leadership doing and being. We know when someone is “doing their leadership thing” or really being a leader. One reason that Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon strip and books have been so popular, is because they expose and ridicule leadership fakery (the big danger is that they also turn people into crusty cynics who automatically assume insincere and faked leadership in most people they see. If we look hard enough for evidence to support our biases, we’ll generally find it).

A major contributor to the self-hypocrisy that leads me to fool myself, is my own ego. If I suffer from “I-strain,” I can’t see myself very well. If I have a full head of esteem, I can’t separate doing leadership from being a leader. If I get on my high horse, that doesn’t raise me higher (and it’s almost impossible to dismount gracefully). If I have money, prestige, or position, I may believe I am a successful leader. I can head down Lover’s Lane holding my own hand. I can forget that praise, like perfume, should be sniffed and not swallowed. The irony is that when we are most full of ourselves, is when we are least aware of how full of ourselves we are.

It’s too easy to get confused by the images and appearances of leadership. Too often we see leadership as doing and having. At that level, we can easily become leadership hypocrites. True leadership is being and becoming. Authentic leadership is from the inside out. When we are true to ourselves and actively blaze our own leadership pathway, it’s impossible to be a leadership hypocrite — despite how others might see us.