Doesn’t it drive you nuts to watch a video where the lips don’t quite match the audio track? According to, “The verb sync, an abbreviation for “synchronize,” appeared in 1929 to describe the matching of sound and picture in the new ‘talkies.'”

Some managers are badly out of sync. For example, a manager once hired me to speak to their organization about the work-life balance themes in Growing the Distance. This was an ongoing theme for their last few annual conferences. A participant told me later that last year’s conference required everyone to travel on Sunday to attend the Monday morning kickoff. That Sunday was Mother’s Day.

Lying by Example: Actions Shout Louder Than Words

My blog, Being the Change We Want to See in Others, updated Jack Griffin’s classic story of family hypocrisy entitled, “It’s OK, son, everybody does it.”

We loathe phoniness and crave genuineness in our leaders. If I aspire to be a leader, my authenticity stems from aligning who I am with where I am trying to take my team or organization. When it’s clearly beyond lip service, this inspires trust, cooperation, and forgiveness in the people who’ll help take us there. Nobody expects us to be the perfect role model. But they do expect synchronized leading — leaders who are the change they want to see in others.

Our “phoney detectors” and “BS meters” are getting ever more sensitive. We’re fed up with sanctimonious church leaders charged with sexual abuse, unhealthy doctors telling us to get in shape, politicians lying to get elected, executives drawing huge salaries and bonuses while their company’s financial value declines, municipal transit managers who don’t take their own buses to work, or training and consulting companies who don’t practice what they teach.

Out of Sync: More Lip Service Than Leadership

Here are examples of leader’s lips not synced to their actions:

  • Managers with low learning agility set goals to build a culture of innovation and organizational learning.
  • Managers produce team and organization vision, values, and mission statements without having clarified and aligned their own personal preferred future, principles, and purpose.
  • Rebranding and customer service programs are initiated by managers who boss, direct, and control rather than serve their organization’s servers.
  • Managers with weak levels of continuous personal improvement implement change and improvement programs — for others.
  • Inflexible Technomanagers oversee rigid systems and processes while trying to encourage risk-taking and innovation.
  • Leadership teams of turf-protecting departmental managers, fighting like three kids in the back seat on a long hot drive, trying to get others to build stronger teams.
  • Disorganized managers with poor time management habits are setting goals, priorities, and disciplined processes — for everyone else.
  • Although they have no personal development plan, process, or habits, managers develop organization transformation and improvement plans.
  • While avoiding (and shooting messengers of) personal feedback, managers construct extensive performance appraisal systems and talk about the importance of accountability — for everyone else.
  • Managers with little vision or boldness want more creative thinking and risk-taking.
  • Managers who run poor — often abysmal — meetings don’t recognize the meeting behaviors they’re modeling, allowing, or fostering reflect and reinforce organizational culture.
  • Managers who wrap passive aggression in “humor” (stones in snowballs) take shots at their peers or other groups and want more teamwork.
  • Tone-deaf bad or bully bosses don’t realize how their behavior undermines their engagement and retention strategies.
  • Managers working for a bad or bully boss — doing little to manage their manager — push others to take initiative and show more leadership.
  • Hidebound management teams stuck in traditional methods of internal focus, functional accountability, and empowerment want to build fast, flexible, and agile organizations.

Fake It till You Make It Will Break It

I once wrote a scathing message (which was never answered) and quit a speaker association because I kept hearing “the old pros” telling people who wanted to get on speaking platforms and tell others how to be successful to “fake it ’til you make it.” The personal and organization improvement field has its share of aspiring speakers and consultants who don’t practice what they preach. Sad.

One of those speakers also asked me to provide a jacket quote endorsement for a “motivational book” he bragged he’d written “on a six-hour airplane flight.” And that’s about how much research and thought the warmed-over platitudes, old jokes, and generalities he’d pieced together obviously had. I declined his invitation.

Are You Leading by Superficial Relevance?

The rapid progress of AI (Artificial Intelligence) means “deep fake” videos are getting better at lip-syncing. But mismatched audio and video can still be a sign the video isn’t authentic. Many leaders are walking examples of SR (Superficial Relevance). Their words and behaviors are out of sync.

Most of us put leading by example high on the list of key leadership characteristics. We use phrases like “walking the talk” or “leading the way” to assess a leader’s credibility. We can see their authenticity level. The speed of light is much faster than the speed of sound. We see behaviors much quicker than hearing declarations and pronouncements.

We recognize authentic leadership when we see it in others. What’s much harder is assessing our own behavior.  We can be me-deep in fooling ourselves. For example, children act like their parents despite all attempts to teach them good manners. Teams act like their leaders, despite attempts to train them otherwise.

It’s too easy to fall into the trap Mark Twain pointed to when he said, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” Changing others starts with changing me.