hypocrisy in leadership

It’s incredibly frustrating for our family to follow the COVID isolation rules while many families we know don’t. What’s been especially infuriating is seeing so many political leaders returning from out of country vacations. Most are directly violating the non-essential travel rules/guidelines drafted by their own governments — for the rest of us little people.

How many more leaders just haven’t been caught traveling or getting together during the holidays with people outside of their immediate household? Reminds me of the story of an applicant filling out a job application. When he came to the question, “Have you ever been arrested?” he wrote, “No.” The next question, intended for people who had answered in the affirmative to the previous question, was “Why?” The applicant answered it anyway: “Never got caught.”

This hypocrisy adds to the cynical view that “political principles” is an oxymoron right up there with clean coal, pretty ugly, retail service, or we’re all in this together. But the CEO of a large healthcare organization who took a two-week Caribbean trip is remarkably mind-blowing. He’s a medical doctor who’s been a clinical chief, professor of medicine, and critical care director. His organization fired a nurse for flying to the US to visit her elderly parents two months ago.

While he basked in the sun, frontline healthcare workers throughout the hospitals in his organization put their lives on the line to care for sick and dying COVID patients during Christmas. How’s that for “we’re all in this together?” Thankfully, he’s suddenly no longer CEO nor on government COVID medical advisory boards.

How can a leader be so hypocritical? 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 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 a type of fraud. It’s an intentional attempt to fool others. The second type is sad. It’s an unintentional lack of self-awareness. It’s self-hypocrisy.

Hard to know which type of hypocrite this ex-CEO is. I am guessing it’s self-hypocrisy born of the creeping elitism that can slowly seep in with increasing power. It’s choosing the dark path of humility that decreases with every promotion and disappears completely in the C-Suite. In a chapter entitled “How Power Corrupts,” in his book, Humankind, Rutger Bregman cites numerous studies of power’s corrosive effects, including “Power Causes Brain Damage.” He writes,

a sense of power disrupts what is known as mirroring, a mental process which plays a key role in empathy… powerful individuals mirror much less. It is almost as if they no longer feel connected to their fellow human beings. As if they’ve come unplugged.

Richard Rumbold was a 17th century political radical executed for taking part in an attempt to overthrow King James II and VII of England, Ireland, and Scotland. His speech from the scaffold included the words, “none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.”

Many outstanding leaders don’t succumb to the creeping elitism that creates we/they gaps. In his extensive research on great leaders and organizations, Jim Collins says the highest form of leadership is Level 5; “…a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will.”

An inspiring story about Lord Mountbatten illustrates what all-in-this-together truly looks like. He was born into the British nobility, was Supreme Allied Commander, Viceroy of India, among many other high society and key leadership positions of power. On a rainy day in 1943, a battalion was lined up waiting for Lord Mountbatten’s inspection. The officers wore raincoats, but the troops had none. They were soaked. Mountbatten’s car pulled up, and he emerged wearing a raincoat. After taking a few steps, he turned around and went back to the car to shed his raincoat. He then turned to make the inspection. The troops cheered.