I interview lots of managers for positions in my company and one question I always ask is, how can they best describe their leadership style? One very popular description of leadership is “I lead by example”. I always ask for an example of this and they say things like they work side by side with the team members, are not afraid to do the dirty work, and will jump in and help during a rush. They talk about being the example of how to do things right. I particularly find this description of leadership interesting because most people who say they lead by example do not. In fact they do just the opposite.
I tell these managers that it sounds like they are “training by example” and not “leading by example.” If they are working side by side with a crew member and they are demonstrating how to do things right, then they are great trainers, not necessarily great leaders. Being a great trainer means you are the example of perfect procedures, recipe adherence and execution. That is training not leading.
So what is leading by example?
Think of leading by example as being the example of leadership to the leaders under you. Owners and managers at all levels are leading by example all the time whether they realize it or not. It is not something they are even aware of most of the time. The truth is that every minute you are in a leadership position you are leading by example, and your leaders under you have your examples to emulate. The actions and behavior you demonstrate are the examples of leadership you choose to show your leaders and they will copy your examples.
- If you are late and have punctuality problems you are the example of being unreliable and so your leaders will lead by being unreliable
- If you are unprofessional in speech and actions then your leaders under you will be unprofessional in speech and actions to their people
- If you propose incentive programs that are unattainable then your leaders under you will have unattainable incentives for their team members
- If you are late for your own appointments your leaders under you will not respect their time commitments either
- If you lie and are incongruent then your leaders under you will lie and be incongruent to their people
- If you don’t follow through on your commitments and promises then the leaders under you will not follow through on their commitment and promises
- If you are temperamental, moody and unpredictable then so will your leaders under you
- If you cheat and steal then so will your leaders under you
- If you disengage your leaders they will disengage the team members who report to them
- If you are egotistical and narcissistic then so will the leaders under you be to their people
- If you take away perks and incentives then so will the leaders under you do the same to their people
- If you refuse to do the right thing then so will the leaders under you
- If you don’t take responsibility for your own mistakes then neither will the leaders under you
- If you mishandle employees and guests then so will the leaders under you
- If you waste your peoples time with pointless meetings and conversations so will the leaders under you do the same with their people
- If you are full of contradictions and inconsistencies so will the leaders under you be full of contradictions and inconsistencies to their people
There is no escaping “leading by example” if you are in a leadership position, especially if there are leaders reporting.to you. Everything you do is seen and emulated. If it’s OK for you to do it will be OK for your leaders to do. If it’s OK for you to neglect to do your job then it’s OK for your leaders under you to neglect to do their job. If you are the example of incompetence then you will teach your leaders to be incompetent also.
Leading by example is unavoidable and the best leaders understand this. They become the best leaders by example and show the leaders under them, by example, how to effectively lead a team to personal growth and business prosperity.
If you are incapable of being a great example of leadership then maybe you should step aside and let someone more congruent, competent and committed lead the teams in your place.