Leadership by example gone wrong

Have you experienced leaders who proudly say they walk the talk? And then do any (or more) of the following:

  • complaining employees should have more entrepreneurial spirit, while incorporating more bureaucracy and authorization controls to be able to have a grip on what is happening in the organization
  • saying they always listen to the input of employees, but talking all the time during meetings, interrupting employees every time they start speaking
  • being strict with employees on costs, implementing several cost cutting measures, while negotiating for their new company car to be bigger
  • micro managing while exclaiming they want their people to show more ownership
  • saying they value different opinions, while vehemently disagreeing with colleagues all the time

Most of us are all too familiar with these examples.

Why? It mostly has to do with two basic psychological principles:

  • Almost all of us often overestimate our abilities. Research has repeatedly shown a huge majority (90%+) usually thinks they are better than average at certain tasks. This effect is often stronger for tasks we’re not experienced in.
  • We also often accept or pardon our own mistakes, while we accept much less of others. So a manager might explain away his own little mistakes, but others observing the manager won’t forgive those mistakes so easily. They’ll also think the manager has double standards, as he forgives himself but doesn’t let others get away so easily.

So how can we really walk the talk?

  • Ask yourself what kind of leader you want to be, and what kind of behavior you need to show to be that leader. Then check in with yourself a few times a day, and ask whether you are showing that behavior.
  • Actively seek feedback, to check whether your good intentions are actually perceived that way.
  • When you complain about others, ask yourself what your role has been. What was it in your behavior, that caused the other to behave that way? “When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you.”
  • When you realize you are making excuses for not walking the talk, stop yourself. Correct your behavior, or tell people you will do better next time. People don’t mind when you make a mistake once in a while, but they need to see that you realize it, and are willing to correct it.

Or even more soundproof: don’t make claims to what kind of wonderful leader you are. Just be one…

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