Sincerity. It is perhaps not a word that springs to mind first when we think about highly successful and powerful business leaders but in today’s uncertain world there are things we need to be able to count on. Sincerity in our leaders is one of those things.
The word sincerity likely has a number of definitions. To me, it is simply about representing ourselves genuinely, without guile or hypocrisy. And, like most worthwhile qualities, talking about being sincere is easier than actually living it.
There are a lot of temptations out there…temptations to pretend we are more knowledgeable, more experienced, more skilled, more empathetic, more important, even wealthier than we really are. I know. We have our reasons for doing it but the truth is, most of them are self serving. And we all know by now that good leadership is rarely about us.
So, not only must leaders be personally vigilant about their own sincerity, they must also be on the look out for it when they are choosing people for leadership roles or helping them develop leadership skills.
In truth, it’s not that easy to spot. It requires us to look beyond the words for consistency and alignment of words and actions.
I’m reminded of a time when I attended a function where sincerity, my own included, was notably absent.
It was Christmastime and our organization participated in a number of activities to support charitable causes. Often, we would “buy” a table at a luncheon benefit with net proceeds going to the charity in question.
On this one particular winter’s day, eight of us were walking from the office building to such a luncheon being hosted at an upscale hotel a few blocks away.
We walked in a bunch; all well wrapped and well shod, happily chatting together about nothing terribly important. There were other bunches of business people as well, walking in the same direction and equally well dressed.
About one block from our destination, we passed a man sitting on the sidewalk. His hair was long, as was his beard and he held in his hand a Styrofoam cup and sign that said something like, “Hungry, Please Help”.
I suppose none of us will really know whether or not this man was representing himself sincerely but he was obviously not doing very well.
My group and I, (engrossed in our conversation and barely noticing the man), walked past him.
The people walking behind us did the same, with one exception. One man stopped long enough to look at the man and say, “Get a job”.
On hearing this, I remember feeling ashamed of myself for not acknowledging the man and giving him something to ease the pain of his day. I remember too, feeling appalled and outraged by the other man’s “get a job” comment. It was an ignorant, throwaway remark that lacked any kind of compassion or decency.
But we all moved on, in a hurry, not to be late for our important luncheon.
We reached our table and seated ourselves. A few minutes later Mr. Get-a-Job and his colleagues also entered the room. The irony of this story became clear then. We were all there in support of the Salvation Army to help raise funds for the vital work they do to ease the lives of people just like the man we had seen sitting on the sidewalk… and so conveniently ignored.
On that day, it was clear too, that although we were physically present at the luncheon, we had left our sincerity behind, choosing instead to focus on being seen to do the right thing rather than actually doing it.
In today’s environment there is little time for this kind of posturing. We are being asked to step up and out of our pretenses. I’m working on it because in my book, sincerity in leadership, (whether we lead only ourselves or multitudes of others), is a pretty big deal.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?
Note: Original post published in July 2011