Hypocrisy and leadership

This weekend at drill an officer asked me a question that turned into a mulling session over the rest of the day. He asked me why I hadn’t corrected a buddy on a uniform deficiency (wearing the fleece as an outer layer).

My response for why I hadn’t corrected him came surprisingly fast; “I wear the fleece on the outside sometimes too,” so I didn’t make beans about it.

Of course, there was some joking about that statement, but it actually spawned some thought about several conversations and experiences I have had in the past about leaders and hypocritical behavior.

I’ve had cadet officers in the past stand in front of their subordinates and explain why we had a certain standard and that it was expected of us to enforce and uphold that same standard. Then they would break that exact same standard.

The problem was not so much the breaking of a standard, after all, we all make mistakes, have bad days, etc. Slipping up is not in and of itself hypocritical. True hypocrisy is the continual, sneaky, bending of the rules in favor of yourself while lording it over others.

All too often as a cadet I would find my “superiors” bending the rules for themselves while making damn sure no one else broke the rules. A common example I can use is fraternization.

I knew several cadet officers who had relationships with lower ranking cadets. I knew one who kept it quiet, and didn’t care what his company did relationship-wise, as long as they followed his example: keep it quiet.

I also knew a cadet officer who strictly enforced the policy regarding fraternization, all while up to her eyeballs fraternizing with a lower-ranking cadet. She lorded the policy over us, thinking no one would catch her, or remember; we all remembered.

Of course, there are a multitude of examples to be used: uniform standards, room standards, fraternization, etc. These standards all provide leaders the opportunity to uphold and enforce the standard in preparation for future leadership.

More importantly, they create a character test. You are not necessarily a bad leader for not enforcing standards, but you are a bad leader if you enforce a standard while not keeping it yourself.

If you want to be a good leader, enforce the standards. If you want to be a great leader, don’t be a hypocrite. Your followers will forgive you for failing once or twice. They won’t forgive a hypocrite.

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