The hypocritical leader

The hypocritical leader. One of the major differences between a successful firm and the typical firm has to do with leadership. In many firms top management leads by directives and policy statements and even some by press releases. They talk a good game and give plenty of lip services, and while that may work especially in the short-term ultimately that leadership style is not every effective.

You can’t phone in leadership.

Executives must get their hands dirty. It has to be demonstrative leadership. For example, Lars-Johan Jarnheimer is the CEO of Tele2, the Swedish based telecommunications growth firm. Since he took over in 1998 revenue had shoot up over 500% by 2002. Jarnheimer personally answers customer letters addressed to him. He even works the customer service phones in the call center a few days a year. A few days is all it takes. The other employees, especially the call center, see by example that the customer is so important that the CEO takes time out of his busy schedule to do it. It has the additional effect of helping to reinforce the customer-centered culture of the organization as well. Amazon founder/CEO Bezos also fields customer service calls occasionally.

London-based Pret A Manger, an upscale sandwich chain, has a public promise that if you don’t like the food you should call in to complain. Founder Julian Metcalf requires his switchboard to record all such calls. He returns every on personally. While legendary Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines used to work in the baggage department during the busy holiday travel season. Sonic Drive-In’s CEO Cliff Hudson requires his executives to spend at least half of their time in the fast food chains actual kitchens not only to understand the business from that base level but also to invent new menu items.

Meg Whitman, CEO of Internet giant eBay, requires each of her top executives to sell something on the eBay site every month. As a result not only does it make the executives customer-centered, it in fact, makes them actually customers. They no longer have to imagine how the customer feels. They no longer have to sympathize or even empathize with the customers. This is a perfect example of management both being customer-centered and demonstrative.

Demonstrative leadership has another important function. Management teams often do not have the respect or trust of their organizations. Trust is important for any organization including the opportunistic ones. Unfortunately, this trust is lost in many organizations by what I call hypocritical leadership. Hypocritical leadership, is when management says one thing, but does another. It is when top management exhorts the organization to behave in one way, but they continue to behave in another. But on the other hand, demonstrative leadership is when executives not only talk the talk, but walk the walk as well.

This serves a number of purposes. First, it shows that management is sincere. Second, it shows that top management sees itself as part of the organization, not above it. Finally, it can demonstrate how the management is supposed to work. All of these help engender trust and respect. When top management is directly and visibly involved, it makes it much easier to rally the troops and focus their attention on the tasks and objects in front of them.

1 comment
  1. Companies often try to strengthen their brand and gain credibility by engaging in for example Corporate Social Responsibility. At the same time many of them fail to live up to their own example by neglecting to handle their internal psychosocial work environment in a proper way.

    In my opinion, that kind of behaviour is a clear example of hypocritical leadership. Do management teams who act in this manner think they can \get away\ with this type of behaviour or are they – which might be even worse – not even aware of it?

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