Leading by Example—Nobody asked you

In discussing leadership styles and philosophies… with clients, potential clients, friends, over-the-fence neighbors, owners and executives, one of the most frequent refrains is “Well, I try to lead by example.”

Well hoorah for you. I think that’s just great. News flash, Dick Tracy, you don’t have a choice.

That’s right, no choice whatsoever. You see, when you show up—for work, for a drink with fellow employees, at a ball-game where employees are present, or even bump into one of those employees while being photographed for “People of Wal-Mart,”—you are an example.

The very fact you show up means you’re on stage, setting an example for others to emulate.

The only choice you have in all of that, is whether to be a good example or a crappy example.

  • Be on time, for everything: Positive Example
  • Use profanity in a meeting: Crappy Example
  • Ask about their family and weekend: Positive Example
  • Breeze through hallways without a word: Crappy Example

See, these things aren’t rocket surgery. This simply is not complex stuff; people glean behavior cues, way of being, how to act and what to say, from leadership examples.

I was at the Master’s golf championship in Augusta, Georgia a few years ago. Now many of you know this, but the people who run Augusta National (the Club) are fanatic about their rules. Positively loony about 100% enforcement, all the time, no matter what. So, we were in line to get in, early one morning, for a practice round. One of the rules is “no hard-seated chairs.” You can carry in a wide variety of seats, camping chairs, lawn chairs, etc., provided they have soft seats. The reason, of course, is that they don’t want you later standing on those seats, blocking the pristine Augusta views from others.

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Well, you knew it would happen… just in front of us was a group of 3 guys. They saw the signs, discussed it quietly amongst themselves, then decided they’d give it a shot — that they wouldn’t get caught.

Wrong — cold-busted.

The gate marshal came up to the guy carrying the chair, and stated flatly, “that can’t come inside the grounds.” To which this 40-something adult male responded, “Well, why can HE do it, then???” …all the while pointing to another gentleman’s chair about 15 feet in front. That’s right — his complete rationale for doing what he knew to be wrong was, “someone else is doing it, and you haven’t said anything to him.”

Don’t kid yourself; this is not near as much an anomaly as we would like to believe. The behavior we allow, we promote. No different than if we were modeling the behavior ourselves. Think about that when you feel like it’s just too much trouble to correct some seemingly isolated (but negative) behavior in your staff.

Exemplify positive leadership–always. Or find a different profession. We need leaders who understand their influence on others.

Like it or not, you—and your position of executive leadership—are under a microscope 24×7.

You are always the example; those in your charge will certainly emulate your actions, behavior, maybe even your way of thinking. The question becomes, of course, are you a good example or… “not so much?”

You might be thinking, particularly if you hold a senior-most role, that the people working for you are already “set in their ways;” they don’t really change for anyone, anyway…; or even, “Hell, they’re old! They don’t need me for an example!”

Don’t believe that crap for one second. They look to you for the right–and wrong–way to do things. Be the right example. All the time. If not, get prepared — it’ll spread like wildfire, and you are personally responsible.


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