What’s Your Leadership Like When Nobody’s Watching?

This morning in my workout class, the instructor was talking about the importance of applying the core principles of Pilates throughout my day – not just when I’m in class. He said, “What is your body doing when you’re driving, working on your laptop, brushing your teeth? Are you standing tall, is your core engaged, are your shoulders down?” It’s one thing to model the principles when I’m in class he said; it’s another to be consistent when nobody’s watching.

It reminded me of our Leadercast Now interview with Julie Bauke, human resource expert, career coach and Chief Happiness Officer at The Bauke Group. Julie was talking about ethical leadership and how leaders are being “scrutinized” all the time. One of her statements rang in my ears as my coach spoke to me morning: “Ethical behavior reveals a leader’s integrity even when no one is able to observe his or her conduct.”

It’s true, isn’t it? Who we are when no one is around reveals not just our personal character, but also the authenticity of our ethical leadership. To me, that means respecting everyone with whom we come into contact – not just our team, senior leaders, customers, and stakeholders—but I’ve always thought you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she interacts with people with whom there is just a fleeting relationship. For example, restaurant servers, cab drivers and even telemarketers. Look around next time you’re at the coffee shop or juice bar – you’ll see immediately what I’m talking about.

Julie puts it this way: “I think leaders need to realize that everything they do and say is being watched. The people reporting to you are looking for consistency and inconsistency; for those times when you talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. Sometimes we think that people really aren’t paying attention – but they are. Therefore, being able to be very specific and intentional about how your advice and direction lines up with how you yourself are behaving is critical; if you take on a leadership philosophy of ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ you’re sunk.”

For example, if you spout a philosophy of valuing people’s time, but you are always late to meetings, you’re saying one thing but doing another. Or if you say you support a culture where it’s safe to propose new ideas, but you constantly shoot them down, the people around you will notice that inconsistency and will stop making suggestions or sharing innovative perspectives.

When that happens, Julie adds, people notice that the leader is holding everyone else to a higher standard which he, himself (or she, herself) isn’t following. “People are watching and they’re saying, ‘You know what? I guess it’s good for me, but not for you.’ Then you get a lot of eye-rolling and people not following you when it comes to the big stuff.”

“One of the best things you can do to earn back trust and respect is to admit it,” says Julie, “and just say, ‘It’s come to my attention,’ (and maybe this is through an employee survey or somebody takes you aside and tells you) ‘I’ve been telling you one thing and I’ve been doing the other. Shame on me for not recognizing that, but it’s now been brought to my attention and I’m going to work hard to make sure that I’m holding myself to the same standards. If I’m not, you have my permission to point it out to me.’ Then when someone points it out to you, don’t jump on them! Say thank you and admit that you’ll keep trying.”

No one expects leaders to be perfect – and you shouldn’t even try to attain that. You’re human, they’re human; failing and endeavoring to do better is also human.


So while I go through my day trying to remember my Pilates principles—engage my core, close my ribcage and keep my shoulders away from my ears—I also try to stay focused on my core leadership values and behaviors that inspire, support and build those around me. Even when they’re not around.


Ginger Schlanger

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