The Greatest Threat to a High Functioning Team

Hypocrisy in the field of leadership leads to ruin. As a leader it is our job to practice what we preach. Finding out that the leader was saying things that they themselves did not believe in is a fatal blow to the heart of the team. It takes away from the team’s confidence when they know that their leader does not follow his own message. In their minds it is something to the effect of: he or she only believed in that message enough to tell us to do it but not act upon it himself.

This undermines the leaders authority and when the leader looses authority, the structure of the team fractures. By contrast, a leader who does follow their own advise will garner respect from the team and can lead more effectively. This leadership style allows the leader to steer their team through hard times and towards uneasy goals.

This type of leader has far better chances of success than the hypocrite leader. The leader who follows their own example will pull away and leave the hypocrite leader in the dust in terms of success. The hypocrite leader’s team will grow distrustful of him or her, due to their actions. While the example leader’s team will, at the very least, have confidence in their leaders integrity and will most likely grow to respect and admire their leader. That respect and admiration will make the team more effective.

In 480 B.C. a coalition army of just over 7,000 Greeks held off a Persian force of, according to some estimates, 300,000. The Greeks were led by 300 Spartans, the Greek’s most fearsome warriors. The battle took place at Thermopylae: a narrow pass that funneled the much larger Persian army. This advantaged the Greeks, for the Persians could only squeeze so many soldiers onto the path at one time. This also prevented the Greek army from encirclement. The battle lasted for two full days and part of a third day. On the morning of the third day the Spartan king, Leonidas, sent most of his men back. The Persians had found a way to flank the Greek army. Wishing to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, Leonidas issued a retreat for most of his soldiers. The 300 Spartans as well as 700 Thespians and about 1,300 other Greek soldiers remained. Everyone of them was killed that day, Leonidas included.

He led by example. He fought with his men throughout the battle and right to the bitter end. The losses on the Persian side were breathtaking considering how small a force they faced. They lost 20,000 men over the course of the battle. The Greeks would eventually go on to defeat their Persian invaders in later battles and in the war at large. Leonidas is a great example of practicing what you preach: he didn’t just send his men to die; he went out and died with them. I think we can all learn a lesson from him, for he illustrates leading by example perfectly.

When a team has confidence in its leader, they will have the ability to stay that difficult course and push that little bit harder. As a leader, you must establish with your team that you can be trusted. And that you are not asking them to do anything that you wouldn’t do. Furthermore, that while you will have to ask the team to do difficult things, it is nothing that you wouldn’t do or don’t believe in yourself.

Your integrity as a leader will be a massive factor in how well your team takes bad news and difficult requests and acts on them. Leading this way will allow you to propel your business over obstacles and to goals. For a moment let’s say that the team doesn’t share your goals or your ambition or vision for the company. Suppose that they hate their job and are only there because they have to be. They don’t respect you and are there just for the money.

You should strive to inspire your team, and these team attributes change absolutely nothing. It is still the leaders prerogative to keep the team moving in the same direction. Whether they hate working with the team or not, they still have to lead by example. This is simply one of the many possible challenges that come with being a leader. The leader should strive to come out of working with a difficult team an improved, better, and more evolved leader.

Let us now return to Thermopylae, and consider the Persian king Xerxes. He had a throne set up on a nearby hill, from which he could witness the battle. Xerxes sent thousand after thousand to fall at the hands of the Greeks. He, according to legend, had the waters of the Hellespont, a crossing point that he attempted to cross at the beginning of his invasion of Europe, whipped after a storm destroyed a bridge he had constructed. Xerxes was a hypocrite. He only believed in his invasion enough to have others die for it. He lived through their retreat, because he was king, receiving food and medical attention while tens of thousands of his men died from starvation and disease throughout their exodus.

In many respects he and Leonidas were polar opposites. It is clear who was the better leader. The Leader can not be effective if they don’t believe in something enough to do it themselves. Xerxes believed in his invasion just enough to sit and watch it. Leonidas believed in his mission enough to die for it. Now I do realize that over the course of warfare it may not be strategically sound to have generals go and die on the front line. Thus, we are only pointing to the principles that these two kings separately exemplified, and we are not comparing them from a strategic perspective.

If the hypocrite leader has a good team, could they still be effective? Well, yes and no. Yes, they could accomplish things and be productive for a time, but this will only last for so long. Eventually, even a great team with a bad leader will go down hill. Pairing a great team with a hypocrite leader will lead to the team resenting the leader and wanting them replaced by a leader who appreciates their work and dedication. They will want a leader who pulls his or her own weight.

At this point the team’s performance will suffer as they loose faith in their leader and question why they are even following her. Now there exists a fracture of the core structure of the team. Unless the leader changes their ways, the team will preform greatly under potential. A great leader can turn a superfluous team into a well oiled machine. This is another glaring difference between those who lead by example and those who don’t: the example leader can work in harmony with good and bad teams, and the hypocrite leader’s results with the two teams trend in the same direction… down.

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Theodore Roosevelt

To wrap this up in a nice bow. When you lead others, I implore you to lead by example. If you don’t, your team will resent your company and distrust you. And from that point your results will go down the drain. Whereas if you lead by example, you will garner respect and leeway from your team. The latter meaning that your team will trust you more in harder times and will stay the course, even when asked to do difficult things. Instead of the hypocrite leader whose team will loose trust in them and motivation. Thus, while leading by example is difficult and often thankless, it is worth it in the long run. As your team will trump others because of its superior leadership.

Challenge: What areas in life do you only care about enough to tell others what to do in? Areas where you will not follow your own advise. This could be in work or everyday life. If you find some areas where this is true for you, then it is time to change. It is time to practice what we preach. This may seem too broad of a challenge, so pick two specific items and correct them. An example would be your fitness or how you speak about others when they are not around. Maybe think of how we all could do without others spreading bad rumors about us, or speaking negatively about us behind our backs. If we don’t want others to do this, then we should not do this either. The exact same standard applies to fitness, or to our workplace leadership.