When Your Boss Is a Hypocrite

Spitzer's stunning fall raises a delicate workplace issue.

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Of all the things Eliot Spitzer has been labeled in the past two weeks, none seem to have been used with such frequency as "hypocrite."

The self-named "steamroller"—a seeming paragon of moral rectitude and righteous indignation as New York's attorney general and then governor—was reduced to being "Client 9." The man who had overseen the takedown of a sophisticated Staten Island prostitution ring in 2004 was now called out as a customer of call girls. He has a wife. He has kids. And he had a state at stake.

Spitzer's fall has rustled memories of the demise of other headline-grabbing, purported paragons like Mark Foley and televangelist Jim Bakker. But I'm just wondering what it's like to work for such people. Surely these leaders had staff members who had up-close views of the mismatch between their words and their deeds and were required to operate under these conflicts.

Many of us actually deal with hypocrisy in some form at our jobs. In fact, "The Hypocrite" is such a common figure in the workplace that it's among the notable characters in The 10 People Who Suck, a business book by Ryan Powers and Michael Wissot.

Wissot, who is managing general partner of SymAction Communications, a PR and market research firm, says the hypocrite is one of the most frustrating work personalities, and one who can cause deeper problems. "Most organizations cannot sustain a culture of moral relativism because, frankly, the tension that results from it is too unbearable," Wissot says. (Think, maybe, of the executive who flies in a private jet while calling for penny pinching and budget slashing elsewhere in his organization. My example, not the authors'.) But this moral relativism—what's right for the boss isn't right for the underling—directly erodes a manager's credibility, Wissot says.

One thing an employee can do is ask the manager to clearly define the rules and the system. That creates some level of accountability. Also, remember the golden rule, and follow it, even if your boss does not. Give better treatment than he or she might expect of you.

Interestingly enough, hypocrites are rarely aware of their hypocrisy, Wissot says. In which case, the office hypocrite could be me or you.

TAGS:
corporate culture
employment

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