Dear Latimer: Questions from Leaders About ‘Practicing What They Preach’

Hello friends! We are continuing our latest blog tradition of fielding your questions about effective communication. And our recent post on July 13 struck a chord with many of you. We got several good responses to our post on the need for leaders to “practice what you preach.So let’s review some of the best questions we received on this topic.

In the future, if you have a question you want to engage us on, send away!. You can always email us directly, or use the “Dear Latimer” box on the right side of most pages on our site. When we get a question from you we will always answer directly back to you. And when appropriate, we will publish your questions and our answers on our blog (always with your permission, and anonymously if requested). Our goal here is to give you some quick support and share some of our answers with the entire Latimer Community.

So, fire away with those questions, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great day! ~Dean and Team Latimer

Dear Latimer —

The leader of my team is a classic example of this problem. They break all the agreed-upon norms we have for our team, but they constantly ask us to behave in certain ways and comply with those norms. Total double standard. Distracted behavior in meetings, multi-tasking, follow-up communications… we are held to a different standard than our leader holds themselves to. How do we make them see the error of their ways?

  • Anonymous, Hartford, CT

Tough question, and I am afraid, a common issue. This one comes up all the time. In my experience, though, very few leaders will consciously apply a double standard for themselves. Usually, the root cause is simply a lack of self-awareness, rather than a conscious choice to hold themselves to different rules. (The ones who consciously choose to have different rules for themselves have a very different kind of problem, and that is a subject for a different post.) In many cases where the cause is likely just a lack of self-awareness, a simple, but perhaps mildly uncomfortable, conversation can help solve most of the problem. If you are comfortable doing so, perhaps just a conversation with your leader will help raise their awareness of the impact of their behaviors.

But if being that candid with your leader is impossible, then you have a couple of options:

  1. Find someone else who can traverse the power dynamic to have that difficult conversation. Maybe a peer of your leader that you can approach and speak to candidly?
  2. Or, if you can’t find an emissary to help you solve the problem, then it becomes a question of your pain tolerance. Grin and bear it as long as you can. And only you can decide how long that is. If you can’t bear it, then perhaps it is time to move on.

Basically, there are two macro solutions… someone needs to speak to your leader, you or someone else, and make them aware of the problem. Or, decide how long you can deal before you move on. Solve the problem, or eliminate the problem from your life.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

Dean

Dear Latimer —

I don’t think I am guilty of what you are writing about. But after reading this post, I am now highly self conscious. How do I find out if I am perceived this way by my team.

  • Andrew in CT

Hey Andrew… I know what that uncertainty feels like. If you care about how your teams feels, and I can tell you do, then these feelings of “am I doing OK” will pop up from time to time. Trust me… I have been there.

The only way that I can think of to determine if your team is unhappy with your behavior, is to ask. Find a member of the team that you can trust, and that won’t be uncomfortable giving you feedback. Not everyone on your team will be comfortable speaking with you in candid ways. So, choose carefully. You also want to make sure that you don’t choose someone who is likely to have some other “axe to grind” as the saying goes. Choose someone who will give it to you straight, but in a mature, professional way. This is a big choice… take your time before you approach anyone. Choosing the wrong person can cause more harm than it solves.

You also could do a blind survey, but in a really small team, that probably won’t work super well. Its too easy to figure out the authors of certain answers. But if you go the survey route, work with someone who knows how to ask probing questions, in a productive way that will get you good and substantive responses. Doing this well is harder than it looks.

In either case, though, don’t ask a question if you aren’t prepared to hear honest answers. Opening ourselves up for feedback is not easy, and you have to be in the correct frame of mind to receive it.

So, the two key variables… ask the correct person/people, and make sure you are in the correct frame of mind to receive the answers. Both things matter.

I hope this helps, and feel free to call me anytime. You know where to find me.

Dean

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.