What is the idiom for a situation that "If people-in-authority don't follow their own set rules, then what can one expect from rest of us" in similar examples given below in different settings:

When HR themselves are tardy, undisciplined then what can you expect from the employees (punctuality and discipline)?

When traffic police themselves are offending (driving without belts, smoking while driving) what can you expect from the vehicle driving community in the city?

When parents themselves are undisciplined (smoking in front of children), what can you expect from the children themselves?

When the management is insincere, what can you expect from their staff?

  • 1
    The general comment is often "do as I say, not as I do!" when parents are telling their children how to behave...
    – RemarkLima
    Sep 9, 2018 at 9:34
  • 1
    or the old If Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you jump too? .... or Monkey see, monkey do! Don't be a monkey!
    – jsotola
    Sep 10, 2018 at 2:16
  • Somewhat related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/392311/…
    – ruakh
    Sep 10, 2018 at 5:24
  • When a word or phrase request attracts a long list of ideas, that is a clear signal that either the criteria are unclear or the question is being taken as more of a poll or request for a list of things, neither of which are a good fit for the Stack Exchange model. The word request must be narrow and specific enough that it has one clearly correct answer. It must for example identify the desired connotation, register, and part of speech, and the context in which the word or phrase is to be used.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 11, 2018 at 19:31

11 Answers 11


Do as I say, not as I do

Model yourself after my instructions, not my actions. The phrase implies that the speaker is imperfect and makes mistakes, so one should follow their advice but not imitate them. My dad, a big smoker, always told me not to smoke. "Do as I say, not as I do," he used to say.

Better quote:

Prov. Take my advice, even though I am acting contrary to it. (Sometimes used as an apology for behaving hypocritically.) Jill: Why are you walking on the grass when I told you not to? Jane: But you're walking on the grass. Jill: Do as I say, not as I do.

free dictionary

Generally, in British English, this is always used from either a superior point of view, as a reply to a comment about how the figure of authority is doing something they've told people not to do... Or it's used as a pejorative term from those below the person who is "doing", often with sarcasm:

So it's a case of "Do as I say, not as I do" then is it?

  • 13
    I don't think this quite captures the desired tenor. The implication in the OP is that the people breaking the rules can't/shouldn't expect anyone else to follow them; basically that through their actions the person in the position of authority has ceded their authority. This expression doesn't seem to capture this, at least not in the context of the example provided (where the advice being given is actually sound, due to factual health-related things that stand independently of any 'rules').
    – aroth
    Sep 9, 2018 at 11:58
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    I agree with you 100%. In fact, it's almost opposite. Sep 9, 2018 at 12:15
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    It's still hypocrisy, either way...
    – RemarkLima
    Sep 9, 2018 at 12:27
  • 2
    @RemarkLima If you are honest about your double standards then it's not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy ('play acting') involves presenting a false impression of yourself and misleading people.
    – Ian Goldby
    Sep 10, 2018 at 8:47
  • 1
    OK, in that case, double standards. Which, IMHO is frowned on the same as hypocrisy :-)
    – RemarkLima
    Sep 10, 2018 at 8:53

While not an exact fit (because it doesn't necessarily involve figures of authority), what about the following:

If they don't practice what they preach why should we?

from def:

To do the things that you advise other people to do:

He's such a hypocrite! He never practises what he preaches.


Also, while not an idiom, hypocrite fits as well.

  • I definitely think this involves figures of authority. The one who preaches is most typically the preacher, the moral and often de facto leader in a community.
    – pipe
    Sep 11, 2018 at 7:44

A “double standard” might be the appropriate term.

a rule or standard of good behaviour that, unfairly, some people are expected to follow or achieve but other people are not:

as in:

  • The governor is being accused of (having) double standards in being tough on law and order yet allowing his own cabinet members to escape prosecution for fraud.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

  • Double standard is a bit more general than this. It's also a double standard if you have different rules for men versus woman, for instance.
    – Barmar
    Sep 10, 2018 at 21:15

"Lead by example," is a common phrase - often used in management training. The idea is that underlings will emulate the behavior of their perceived superiors in matters of dress and decorum in a particular setting. It worked better in the days before "sensitivity training".


  • @user070221 - Thanks for the edit. (Besides not knowing how to do research, I have a mortal fear of plagiarizing.)
    – Oldbag
    Sep 9, 2018 at 12:33
  • 2
    If you provide a link and say where it comes from, I doubt you may be accused of plagiarism.
    – user 66974
    Sep 9, 2018 at 12:37
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    I'm confused by your last sentence and what it's supposed to imply.
    – V2Blast
    Sep 9, 2018 at 16:42
  • 3
    @Oldbag Why? I too can, at best, take wild guesses as to what you mean. It would be great if you could elaborate. Sep 9, 2018 at 21:09
  • 1
    Another vote for confusion at your last sentence. The answer is otherwise good.
    – Vicky
    Sep 10, 2018 at 14:42

Set a bad example is an expression you may use.

set an example:

set a good or bad example . Behave in a way that should (or will) be imitated, as in

  • Dad was always telling Bill to set a good example for his younger brother, or They were afraid of setting a bad example for the other nations/. [Late 1700s]



The more colloquial idiom would be "Sauce for the Goose, is sauce for the Gander"

That is, rules that apply to those under authority must also apply to those in authority. Or, rules that apply to me must also apply to you.

All the other phrases are correct as well. A common idea with many expressions.

Another expression of this from US Colonial times:

"The Law condemns the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the Common

But lets the greater villain loose,

Who steals the Common from the goose."

  • 1
    I've never heard this expression before (which certainly doesn't mean it's not a valid answer). What part of the world is this used in?
    – Belgabad
    Sep 10, 2018 at 16:44
  • @Belgabad: As someone who grew up in the UK in the 80’s/90’s, this expression comes very naturally to me — I’d think of it as very common but perhaps a little old fashioned. It was my first thought for the question too — it’s not quite as specific as what the question asks for, but it fits an aspect which most other answers miss, in that it describes not just the double standard itself, but the response of flouting the double standard.
    – PLL
    Sep 10, 2018 at 19:35
  • @PLL I grew up in the United States, so if that's a UK specific expression, that makes a lot of sense. You learn something new every day :D
    – Belgabad
    Sep 10, 2018 at 19:49
  • 10
    From the US, my experience is the variant What's good for the goose is good for the gander is what is used, I've never heard this one with sauces. Sep 10, 2018 at 21:01
  • @JeffLambert same here, but I'm from UK
    – Anentropic
    Sep 11, 2018 at 17:13

I don't think there's an exact idiom, but this quote from Shakespeare sums up what you were trying to express:

Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,

Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,

Whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine,

Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,

And recks not his own rede.

Ophelia to Laertes - Hamlet 1.3.48-52

  • 1
    This is a useful post, but note that our EL&U site is devoted to detailed answers. Please cite which character and which play. For further guidance, see How to Answer. Sep 9, 2018 at 23:56

Perhaps you can say

HR has an attitude of "rules for thee, but not for me".

  • 1
    See also: "One [law] for the rich, another [law] for the poor" Sep 10, 2018 at 11:03

a fish rots from the head down

When an organization or state fails, it is the leadership that is the root cause.

It's more on a leadership, but I believe it could do.


  1. The company was bound to be closed sooner or later considering the kind of mangers that they had hired. A fish rots from the head down after all.
  2. A leader has to be of a strong will and good character otherwise as it is said, the fish rots from the head down. The whole organization would then have to suffer because of it.
  3. His maid servant doesn’t do anything as asked for. But the fish rots from the head down, look at how unorganized his own life is.

Source: theidioms.com


My favourite idiom that I believe is applicable here is Physician heal thyself

The moral of the proverb is counsel to attend to one's own defects rather than criticizing defects in others

Also loosely related: First remove the log from your own eye

You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.


That's rich, HR complaining about my punctuality. That's rich, the traffic police telling me to use a belt.

From Urban Dictionary :

that's rich
when someone criticizes you for something that they themselves do.

when someone has the audacity to reprimand you when they are much worse than you.

Tony: Dude, you were wrong for standing up Kesley the other night.
John: Yet you're engaged yet you're f***ing two of your fiancee's best friends! That's rich, bro. Real f***ing rich.


by mizzraynay June 29, 2006

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