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We Are All Hypocrites: 3 Simple Ways to Change the Game

Photo of page in dictionary defining hypocrite

Several years ago, some colleagues of mine who were indirect reports came to me to have a discussion. They said they had noticed a problem and wanted to share it. I thought for sure they were coming to complain about one of my direct reports, but wouldn’t you know it, they were coming to me to complain about me!  

I am truly grateful, to this day, that they felt like they could come right to me with their complaint.  The results were two-fold. What they shared:

  1. Was hard to hear (and I had to figure out how to recover and move forward)  

  2. Changed how I observed myself (even right to this very moment)

If we could travel back in time a few weeks before these brave souls knocked on my office door, you would have found me standing in front of a group of my staff members with enthusiasm and charisma, expounding on the benefits of our vision for the future and extolling the strategies we could use to achieve this vision. Then jump ahead another week or two and you would find me standing in front of the same staff members talking about areas where we were going to trim the fat and make some cuts that would make us stronger. What I didn’t put together and gratefully these staff members did, is that the cuts I was proposing would directly conflict with some of the exciting strategies we had been discussing in the first meeting.  Inadvertently and without intention, I stood in front of this team and looked like I was talking out of both sides of my mouth.

That revelation was a hard one to swallow, but these truth-tellers were right and after they pointed it out, I could see it as plain as day. “How do I recover from this,” I thought? After some careful consideration, I called the team together for a third time and pointed out my error. I described how I had not seen the connection, but I clearly did now and I would have to change the budget decisions in order to match the vision we had initially started with. While I was grateful that I had decided to reconvene the team, it was hard to know that I had made such a glaring mistake.  Apologizing to the team was actually easier than admitting to myself that I hadn’t seen the big picture. 

This story that I shared with you was one of the most powerful lessons in my leadership journey.  While I am always open and am grateful to truth-tellers who are brave enough to come and share what they see, I know that I won’t always have someone there to point it out to me. I had to get better at identifying my own hypocrisy. I had to hear and see myself. I had to become observant enough to know when my words and actions are in conflict. From that point on, I have worked tirelessly to be diligent in this area and make it a point with all of the teams I am on to help us collectively identify our own hypocrisy before others do (because they will).  

After reading this story, is a personal story of your own bubbling up? Did something just come to mind that you hadn’t recognized before? 

Take a moment and reflect on this. Where have you found your own hypocrisy? Or where could you have seen it if you were looking for it? 

Recently, a mid-level leader I was coaching had his very own aha moment. Within that particular organization, we had spent quite a bit of time digging into leadership traits that help people lead authentically and cultivate deep relationships that inspire action. During one particular team setting, he looked around the room and realized that many of the team members, including myself, were not behaving with the very traits they had been working so hard to cultivate. He was shocked and asked himself if all of their leadership development even meant anything to them based on their performance in that moment.

We all have bad days. We all have “off” moments, but if we aren’t monitoring how we “show up,” we are missing the boat because everyone else is observing how we “show up.” 

To help us think about what it means to identify our own hypocrisy, consider these concepts and how you might take hold of them for yourself.

Become a detached observer of yourself: When you employ the skill of becoming a detached observer, you allow yourself to rise above your thoughts, feelings and actions to see and hear yourself. Imagine a movie or a cartoon in which someone has an out of body experience and watches themselves from a distance. This is a helpful image to explore (not really a suggestion to leave your body.) We become detached in the sense that we aren’t taking everything personally and we are cognizant of our thinking - metacognition. In using this practice, I have become aware of how frequently I use certain phrases, that particular situations evoke similar feelings, or that I have a tendency to check-out when someone really starts digging into the details of a project.

Tips for becoming a detached observer:

  1. Practice mindfulness and self-reflection: Set aside dedicated time each day for you to intentionally reflect. Observe your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without judgment. Reflect on your reactions to different situations and consider why you responded in a certain way.  What do you notice?

  2. Develop a growth mindset: After reflection, when you notice thoughts or reactions you would like to address or change, embrace this challenge as an opportunity for learning and growth. Instead of viewing failure as a reflection of your abilities, see it as a chance to gain valuable experience and adjust your approach accordingly.

  3. Create distance between stimulus and response: When faced with a challenging situation or emotional trigger, pause before reacting. Take a deep breath and consciously choose how you want to respond rather than defaulting to instinctive or habitual behavior. This allows you to respond thoughtfully rather than reactively.

Grow in emotional intelligence: The Oxford Dictionary defines emotional intelligence as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”  Think about the concept as a two sided coin. On one side, you are aware of your own emotions and how those emotions are influencing your words and actions. On the other side of the coin, you are aware of other people’s emotions via their body language, words, tone of voice, silence, eye contact, etc. Growing in the skill of emotional intelligence means we are simultaneously aware of both sides of the coin and have the interpersonal skills to regulate ourselves and to help others do the same. Strengthening our emotional intelligence helps us to be a better detached observer because we can’t detach from experiences and make observations if we are caught up in our own personal emotions.

What can you do to grow your emotional intelligence?

  1. Develop empathy: Actively seek to understand the perspectives, feelings, and needs of others. Practice active listening and nonverbal communication to demonstrate empathy and validation. Cultivate a genuine curiosity about others’ experiences and be open to seeing the world from their point of view.  For example, in the middle of a meeting or a conversation, ask yourself, “What is the other person’s body language communicating to me right now?”

  2. Enhance emotional regulation: Recognize when you need to step back and regulate your emotions before responding to a situation.  Learn to manage your emotions in healthy and constructive ways. Identify strategies that help you cope with stress, frustration, or anger, such as deep breathing, taking breaks, or seeking support from trusted colleagues or mentors.  You can’t practice metacognition if you are inflamed with your own emotions.

  3. Be open to constructive criticism: This is often a challenge because it is easy to become defensive.  When you do, it is impossible to be a detached observer and to self-regulate.  Being grounded in our yown equanimity when receiving feedback allows you to hear, observe, and be curious about what others are telling you.  From there, you can decide if this is helpful information and whether or not to use or discard it.  But you can only make that choice after careful consideration from an objective perspective.

typewriter with white sheet of paper that reads "truth"
Photo Courtesy of Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Find yourself a truth-teller: Probably the boldest move of all three of these concepts is finding a truth-teller in your life and having the courage to not only invite, but implore them to be a mirror for you. It takes a special person to do this and there has to be a strong foundation of trust and respect for us to open ourselves up in such a vulnerable way. While I often make broad sweeping statements to the teams I lead, my family, and my friends that go something like this, “You can tell me anything. If you see something about my actions or words that you think is headed in the wrong direction, please come to me and respectfully share your insights,” most people don’t take me up on such a general offer. They would have to be brave to approach me and say they want to tell me where they think I am making a mistake. A better and more targeted approach is to identify the one or two people who you know have your back and who you know will share insights with you because they want what is best for you. I have been truly fortunate to have had a few people in my life professionally who have been willing to play this role for me and even a couple in my personal life.

How do you invite a truth-teller into your life?  

Think of someone right now who you know is supportive, honest, of good character, and who genuinely cares about you. When identified: 

  1. Create the time and space: Set some time for private conversation and share why having someone who can hold a mirror up to your words and actions is important in your leadership growth. 

  2. Seek commitment: Ask them if they are willing to serve in this capacity for you? 

  3. Set expectations to ensure truth-telling actually happens: Make it incredibly clear that this isn’t just fluff, you expect real insights no matter how challenging and you are going to seek them out and ask for their reflection, once a month, once a quarter, etc.  

  4. Express gratitude to deepen the relationship: End the conversation with a heartfelt thank you and maybe even ask what you could do to support them in their own growth.

Choose one (or all) of these concepts to help you begin to take steps toward identifying your own hypocrisies. We all have them. The sooner we identify them and resolve them the more trustworthy a person we will be in the eyes of those we work with and for. When I facilitate leadership workshops, my mantra is, “this is the inner work.”  We tend to think that leadership is what we project - what people see and follow on the outside. But in reality, leadership is what we cultivate on the inside. As we become more aware, attuned, and skilled at our interior life, we are better equipped to do the thing we call “leadership” in our exterior life. 

If you’re ready to learn some truths about yourself, find ways to grow, and move away from hypocrisy in your leadership, then we are here for you! 


Photo of Emmy Beeson, The Change Coach
Emmy Beeson, The Change Coach

Emmy Beeson, The Change Coach, has dedicated her life to educating and serving others, knowing that by growing within, we can grow others in more significant ways. Emmy knows that by asking key questions, one can open up and discover a whole new way of approaching the world. If you're ready to look within, schedule a free strategy session with Emmy today.


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