Drug dealers typically sell to others what they do not use. Lyrics have captured this: “to be a dope man you must qualify, don’t get high off your own supply.” Some believe this is smart and savvy, not only to avoid the damages of drugs but also to maximize profits. Others believe this is the ultimate hypocrisy – to sell to others what you don’t use yourself. [Please note this is NOT a blog about drug use selling drugs. I am using as an illustration. Relax.]
Drug dealers are not the only ones who advocate for others to use something they don’t use. Often leaders don’t smoke what they sell and over time it ruins the credibility of the leaders. Hypocrisy always does. Leadership hypocrisy: Declaring something important for others that you don’t do yourself. You have likely seen leaders not smoking what they sell, and have even poked fun of some of it. For example, when marketers at Yahoo! made this funny meme, they became the joke because they did not believe enough in their own search engine to use it in the joke.
It is common.
The business leader who does not use his or her own products.
The doctor who advocates heart health yet regularly smokes.
The church leader who challenges people to give generously yet does not give generously.
The chiropractor who adjusts others but never gets adjusted.
The preacher who declares God’s grace yet lives a life of earning.
The marriage counselor who does not pursue his own wife.
The personal trainer who eats fast food during the lunch break.
And so on…
In the classic work, The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner declare that the most important leadership characteristic is credibility. Without credibility, you cannot lead effectively. Without credibility, you cannot expect your words to be heard. Without credibility, you cannot expect people to follow.
It takes integrity and character to have credibility. It also takes smoking what you sell – which is part of integrity. If you advocate something for others that you don’t live out yourself, your credibility will erode.