authentic leadership

As legend has it, Alexander the Great was leading his forces across a scorching terrain. For eleven days, they marched on. The soldiers were exhausted, and their throats parched. On the twelfth day, the advance guard brought Alexander a helmet containing a cup or two of all the water they could find. The troops watched with envy as the water was presented to him.

Alexander never hesitated. He dumped the water on the hot sand. “It’s no use for one to drink when many thirst,” he said. His troops desperately needed water. But the water in that helmet was only a drop or two for each soldier. Alexander couldn’t give them water. So, he gave them another vital sustenance — inspiration. They found water later. At that moment, he energized them with leadership.

Some leaders inspire with words. The most powerful leaders inspire with action. They LOL — lead out loud. What they do shouts so loud people don’t hear what they’re saying.

During an offsite retreat, the president of a major retailing chain talked about the importance of integrity and trust. Later in a discussion about management skill gaps, he expressed frustration that store managers weren’t “entrepreneurial enough” to keep extra merchandise shipped in error by external suppliers. “It’s only fair,” he explained, “These companies are always jerking us around.” That afternoon as he claimed honesty and integrity were core values, I thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quip, “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

One of the most infuriating things to emerge from our pandemic are glaring examples of hypocritical political leadership. I know, I know, the cynic in me wants to put that down as all too typical of the political game. But we’ve had numerous political leaders express enormous frustration that people aren’t getting the message about following COVID protocols. Then we hear examples of leaders breaking many of the rules themselves — when they think no one is looking. People get the message. They see it loud and clear. It can feel like we’re trapped in a reality warp like the scene from the Groucho Marx movie, Duck Soup: “Who you going to believe, me, or your own eyes?”

Honesty and integrity are central to authentic leadership. Hypocritical leadership makes a mockery of that. It’s then almost impossible for a leader to talk their way out of something they’ve behaved their way into.

The most effective communication is face-to-face. The most believable communication is behavior. Many leaders agree with that statement. However, leaders often judge themselves by their intentions. But the people they are leading can’t see into their hearts. They only see — and judge — their actions.

Tomorrow we publish my January blogs in the February issue of The Leader Letter. This issue’s focus is on leading by example. Muting the Messenger vents some of my frustration with hypocritical COVID leadership. It also looks at deceitful, versus sincere, hypocrisy. Lying with sincerity often results from the power and authority that slowly corrupts weaker leaders. From their positions of privilege, they think they’re better than the people they’re leading.

We’ll also look at the creeping hypocrisy that creates blind spots. You’ll find 10 ways to nurture a feedback-rich culture to check those blinds spots. You’ll also find a few thoughts that I hope will make you pause and consider whether your audio and video are out of sync.

Sean was filling out a university questionnaire to help determine roommate compatibility. Beside the questions, “Do you make your bed every day?” and “Do you consider yourself a neat person?” he checked “Yes.” Later his mother reviewed the questionnaire. Knowing those answers were far from the truth, she asked Sean why he’d lied. “What do you expect me to do,” he retorted. “I don’t want to get stuck living with some slob!”

May this issue help you avoid becoming a hypocritical leadership slob.