To lead someone or something means, literally, to be in front, so that others can see and follow in that direction. Stated another way, if you think you are leading, but no one is following, you are just taking a walk. In yet other words, leaders are leaders because of what they do, not because of a position they hold or the title printed on their business cards. This idea is central to the process of, and having success in, leading others.
This idea holds all of us as leaders accountable for our actions – and it means that “leading by example” is a phrase with too many words. Perhaps the only (and definitely the best) way to lead is “by example.”
So if we are going to lead by example, what are some of the most important examples we can set?
That is the question I want to begin to answer (and get you thinking about) with the rest of this article.
- Attitude. Your attitude matters more than everyone else’s. As a leader, they are looking to you, watching for clues and modeling your attitude. Remember that someone must inject the positive attitude, must smile first, and must make it OK to think about problems proactively. If you don’t do it, who else will? If you aren’t doing it, what are you waiting for?
- Learning. Every leader wants those they lead to be learning, developing and growing. It is hard to convince them to do so if they don’t see you doing it. If you want others to be learners, you must be one first. Besides, the role of leader is complex enough that there is always something you can learn; always something you can get better at.
- Expectations. The expectations you have for others will impact their performance, positively or negatively. Which way will it be? Are you going first by raising your expectation of others so they can build confidence, urgency and discipline to reach those expectations? It won’t happen automatically. Set your expectations of others, let people know you believe in them, then watch them grow!
- Change. If you want to affect and implement change you must be a champion of it. If you want the change to be successful, you must lead people towards it. This goes beyond corporate initiatives and major projects. Are you open to trying new things? Are you flexible in your approaches? If you want others to be, remember who they are watching …
- Trust. If you want to build more trust in your organization – or with specific individuals, you must go first. Offer them trust. Be more trustworthy. Waiting for others to take the lead could be a long wait. Extend and offer trust first. Occasionally you will get hurt, more often greater trust will build.
- Questions. If you want the input of others, stop talking and start asking. Ask questions first. Ask questions often. Good questions promote learning, information clarity and exchange and engagement. If you want these things, stop talking and start asking.
- Listening. Certainly, once you ask a question you will be best served by listening to the response. Listening is such an important behavior because it not only allows for information to be successfully shared, but it communicates to the other person that you care about their thoughts, the facts and who they are. For these reasons and many more, listen more!
Setting an example means taking the risk, doing what is necessary, doing what no one else is doing. It means going first.