True Insincerity is Hard to Find

Posted 04.30.2010

One of my mentors in high school was fond of saying, “True insincerity is hard to find.”  Running for reelection in Britain this week, prime minister Gordon Brown demonstrated what that line is all about. In case you haven’t heard, Brown was out in the neighborhoods talking to the “real people” about their concerns when he struck up a conversation with an older woman who had a list of complaints including her take on British immigration policy. Brown talked with her for five minutes, then left the scene in his motorcade. Unfortunately, he forgot to take the TV network’s wireless microphone off his lapel and, as he was driving away, was caught on tape referring to the lady as a “bigoted woman.” 

The conversation with the woman and his off camera remarks can be seen in this clip. It’s about five minutes long with Brown’s gaffe coming around the 4:50 mark. If you’re at all a student of leadership insincerity, I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It’s too rich.

If you want a recap of the overall story including the lady’s reaction when she heard Brown called her a bigot and Brown scrambling to recover from sticking his foot in his mouth, Jon Stewart had a very funny segment about it on The Daily Show:

Apart from the sheer entertainment value of the episode, there are some great lessons in it in how to be truly insincere. All of this, of course, falls into the category of you can sometimes learn a lot about leadership by watching someone do what you shouldn’t do. Here’s the beginning of the list for Gordon Brown. Please do feel free to add to it:

  • Body language that screams I can’t wait to get out of here.
  • Not listening to what the woman was saying.  Telling her why she was wrong and immediately launching into his campaign talking points.
  • Patronizing her by telling her what a good person she was (before he called her bigoted later) when he had just met her.
  • Asking about her grandkids as he was leaving in transparent attempt to establish connection.
  • Saying in a flat monotone, “Good to see you, good to see you” to the crowd as he was leaving when he was clearly not having a good time.

I could go on, but why should I have all the fun?  What did you notice in the Brown clips?  In your experience, what howlers have you seen leaders pull that demonstrate that true insincerity is hard to find?