The “Say-Do” Gap: Not Just a Leadership Issue

Not Just a Leadership IssueThroughout the life of this blog, I’ve referred to the “say-do” gap in leadership numerous times.  Yes, leaders have a responsibility to be authentic.  It’s imperative to effective organizations, but as followers, we also are accountable for insisting on that authenticity and not merely sitting back and allowing the “say-do” gap to continue in perpetuity.

No, I’m not advocating mutiny or outright revolt (not yet!).  Courage is not merely the mark of leadership, but rather a necessity at all levels of organization.

Here are steps for confronting a “say-do” gap by your leader:

  1. Evaluate the circumstance – Ensure you understand the holistic situation, and make sure you are reading the inauthenticity accurately.  Sometimes we are so close that our gut reactions lead us to incorrect assumptions.  Sometimes, we’re right on the mark with our observations….
  2. Confront the leader (respectfully!) – Give your leader the benefit of the doubt that the gap in what they’ve said and done is not intentional or deleterious.  But make sure your leader understands that you have perceived inauthentic leadership on their part, and that as a follower, you will hold them accountable to a stronger example of leadership.
  3. Be patient – Don’t necessarily expect an immediate correction of inauthentic leadership.  Personal change sometimes takes considerable effort and time to enact.  Be sure to let your leader have sufficient time to correct this tendency (if, it truly is a trait, not a one-time slip-up).
  4. Determine next steps – If you have allowed adequate time for correction, yet the inauthentic leadership persist, you have to make a decision.  Perhaps you need to escalate the issue to your boss’s boss.  Sometimes, it means simply returning to Step 2 again, with a little more vigor.  Or perhaps it’s time to “vote with your feet.”  But if you do nothing, you have, in fact, done something… have conditioned your leader to not need to respond or change when you raise issues. Shame on you!

This strategy should look vaguely familiar, as it’s just an adaptation of the well-known Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) process for continuous improvement….not rocket science, to be sure!

Is it easy?  Absolutely not!  Some time ago, I worked for an inauthentic leader who preached personal accountability, but would be the first to throw her employees under the bus when the decisions she made backfired.  The first time this happened, I addressed the situation and sat back to see if the leader would refocus on being more authentic.  In fact, I waited more than a year.  By that time, her leadership failings had proven themselves to be traits, not anomalies.  So, I made one of the most difficult and risky decisions of my professional life.  I walked….on the spot.

“Say-Do” leadership gaps don’t just undermine morale, they fundamentally degrade the ability of the entire organization to operate in an efficient and positive manner.  Ultimately, they will drive the organization into the dirt, unfortunately, taking hardworking employees with it.  It’s time, however, that employees stop viewing themselves as hapless victims in these situations.  In fact, by taking accountability for their own role in addressing inauthentic leadership, employees may actually be saving their own positions and their entire organizations.

2 thoughts on “The “Say-Do” Gap: Not Just a Leadership Issue

  1. I haven’t worked for a leader like this, but I certainly know a few from organizations I belong to. It is such a sad situation. I have actually had some of their employee approach me for a job, stating they cannot work under such a leader. Even when they have heard how other more positive, supportive leader do things they scoff stating that is not the way they do things, thinking their methods are correct. What can you do about that?

    1. Sometimes, there’s not a lot that CAN be done, unless that leader’s supervisor also recognizes the negative impacts of the inauthentic leader. If not, the employees themselves may need to consider “voting with their feet.” While not always an option (particularly in this economy), when it becomes apparent that a leader cannot keep his or her employees, eventually, the behaviors of that leader are put under the microscope.

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