An elderly man went to the doctor with a complaint about a gas problem. “But,” he told the doctor, “it really doesn’t bother me too much. When I pass gas, they never smell and are always silent. As a matter of fact, I’ve passed gas a few times since I’ve been here in your office. You didn’t know I was doing it because they don’t smell and are silent.”

“I see,” the doctor replied as he examined him. When he was finished, he wrote a prescription and handed it to his patient. “Take these pills three times a day and come back to see me next week,” he instructed.

The next week the gentleman was back. “Doctor,” he exclaimed, “I don’t know what medication you gave me, but now my gas… although still silent… stinks terribly!”

The doctor exclaimed, “Good! Now that we’ve cleared up your sinuses, let’s work on your hearing.”

Like beauty, trust, or quality, the gap between our declared and our lived values is in the eye (or nose) of the beholder. I judge whether I am values-driven by my intentions. Others judge my values by my actions. My intentions and the actions that others see may be miles apart. Unless I know that, I am unlikely to change my actions or try to get others to see me differently. I can become trapped in their reality and frustrated when they don’t respond to me as I’d like.

An ancient philosopher said, “we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when we’re afraid of the light.” Many leaders are “sincere hypocrites.” Their allergy to feedback makes them blissfully ignorant and leads to me-deep in fooling themselves. As Zenger Folkman’s 360 assessments show, when leaders seek out and act on feedback, they’re up to four times more effective than their peers. But good leaders can also fall short of extraordinary leadership because they don’t know and leverage their strengths.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s deadly to values-based leadership. What if you’re “that boss?” What if you think your declared-lived values gap is much smaller than others feel it is? Their perceptions form your relationship and your effectiveness. Your declared values could have a high “snicker factor.” You might be seen as a walking, talking hypocrite and not know it.

Values Alignment: Check Your Blind Spots

Not checking blind spots can lead to deadly highway accidents. Leaders who don’t seek feedback often develop deadly blind spots. And when the crash happens, the blind leader is taken by surprise. “Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner?”

Here are a few ways you can check your blind spots and build a feedback-rich culture:

  • Get unfiltered and anonymous feedback on your leadership effectiveness with 360 assessments. Build personal and team development plans around that feedback that leverages strengths and addresses any fatal flaws.
  • Do an informal 360 with these questions and approaches.
  • Use an external coach to leverage your strengths in building a personal development plan from a feedback assessment.
  • Turn feedback into change through acceptance, prioritization, and action planning.
  • When completing a direct report’s performance appraisal, ask for input on your own behavior (and the effectiveness of that coaching).
  • Run focus groups using a cross-section of people in your organization. A neutral facilitator can prepare a report summarizing the feedback.
  • Periodically, do group assessments of your meeting effectiveness. Ask what you should keep, stop, or start doing to make your work together more effective.
  • Get an assessment from external consultants based on some combination of surveys, reviews, focus groups, and customer feedback.
  • Network informally among peers in and out of your organization. Seek input on everything from personal observations to rumors they’ve heard about you.
  • Watch for signs of moose-on-the-table such as lack of follow-through, real conversations happening outside the meeting, shunning personal accountability, blame-storming, sudden surprises erupting into major problems, etc.

French author and Nobel Prize winner in Literature, André Gide, said, “The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity.”

Are your declared values seen as so much hot air? Despite your good intentions, do others think your lived values stink? How do you know?