Leading by Example
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Posted by: Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Zimmerman's TUESDAY TIP:
"As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do."
Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-born industrialist and philanthropist,
Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Personal Commentary:
There's hardly anything worse for company morale than leaders who
practice the "Do as I say, not as I do" philosophy. When this
happens, you can almost see the loss of enthusiasm and goodwill among the
staff. It's like watching the air go out of a balloon ... and cynicism and
disappointment take its place.
You know what I'm talking about. There's the executive who
demands cost cutting in the organization ... which often means laying off a
couple of hundred people ... and then gives himself a $10 million bonus.
There's the manager who tells everyone to stay late and then she leaves
promptly at 5:00 p.m. so she won't miss her kid's baseball game. And
there's the supervisor who criticizes everyone for spending time on the
Internet, but someone sees him ordering some golfing shoes online in the middle
of the afternoon.
1. The cost of NOT leading by example
If leading by example is one of the best ways to motivate the best
in others, then leading by words that are negated by your actions is one of the
most certain ways to bring out the worst in others. After all, no matter what
the situation is or how well you justify your double standards, when people
witness you saying one thing and doing another, it ALWAYS feels like a
There are emotional costs, to be certain. Everyone who sees you
say one thing and do another feels angry and disappointed. And when
negative emotions rise, productivity takes a dip.
But there are team costs as well. When a leader doesn't
practice what he preaches, it can be almost impossible for a team to work
together successfully ... because no one can trust a leader who talks the talk
but doesn't walk the walk.
Consider what might have happened if Gandhi had, even one time,
been in a physical fight with his opposition. His important message of
nonviolent protest would probably have been much harder to believe after that.
His followers would have looked at him with suspicion and distrust. The chances
of them getting into physical arguments or committing acts of violence probably
would have increased dramatically.
People do not follow egotistical braggarts with enthusiasm ... at
least not for very long. Why should they? When your walk and talk don't
line up, they treat everything you say with suspicion and doubt. They wonder if
you're doing the right thing or if you even know what the right thing is.
They simply stop believing in you.
Therefore, it only makes sense to acknowledge ...
2. The importance of leading by example
Good leaders push their people forward with excitement,
inspiration, trust, and vision. That's true. BUT, none of that will
happen if you don't lead by example ... FIRST.
Indeed, it's one of the key points made in my keynote and seminar
on "The Leadership Payoff: How The Best Leaders Bring Out The Best
In Yourself And Others." (Click here to read more about it.)
Indeed, after delivering the program for Texas Instruments, Jeff Asmus,
the Manager of Professional Development, wrote, "Alan, Thank you, thank
you, thank you for your program with our Leadership Development Group. The
positive feedback continues to come in day after day, saying such things as:
'Best session yet ... Really the right messages at the right time for Texas
Instruments ... It was a great day of us bonding and sharing with each other, I
really think we are a team now ... Very practical, and engaging ... and ...
Overall, a great session.' As the Manager, I have to say it was great fun
to watch this group fully engage. I look forward to working with you and
your organization in the future."
Some of the best leadership advice I ever received was simple and
straightforward. A leader may not always be able to predict what their
followers will do, or say, or think. However, employees must always be able to
predict what their leader will do, or say, or think ... and they will be
able to do that if the leader consistently leads by example. That way,
his/her followers will be able to adapt and adjust their behavior to that of
the leader. It's simple but effective.
When I asked Daryl Flood, the CEO of Daryl Flood Relocation and
Logistics about this, he answered, "What does it take to be a successful
leader? After thinking about it for a few days, I wrote down the
following thoughts. Consistently successful leaders follow best practices
that garner loyalty and respect from their employees, while leading their
organizations to new heights of success." Sounded pretty profound to
So I asked Daryl to break it down further. He replied,
"All of those best practices that garner loyalty and respect start with
leading by example. In particular: caring about people, demonstrating
integrity in everything, continuously learning, setting high expectations and
standards, having the courage to make unpopular decisions, showing humility,
and constantly communicating."
When the Great Recession hit a few years ago, it became quite
obvious which ones knew how to turn crises into opportunities. According to
expert observer Jim Collins, the ones who would survive would be the ones who
had "underlying ideals or principles that explained why it was important
that they existed."
Take Procter & Gamble, for example. One of the things
that was very distinctive about P&G was their commitment to quality, even
in the tough times. They said a customer will always be able to depend on
the fact that a product is what we say it is. We will always build our
reputation on quality. When they were under pressure to start cutting corners
or use cheaper ingredients, they refused to do so. And they stayed alive and
well while their competitors, who cut corners, who didn't stick to their
values, who didn't deliver what they said they were going to deliver,
floundered and failed.
So how can you do a better job of leading by example?
3. Behaviors of those who lead by example
Show them the way. Stop and think about the
inspiring people who have changed the world with their examples. Consider what
Mahatma Gandhi accomplished through his actions: He spent most of his adult
life living what he preached to others. He was committed to nonviolent
resistance to protest injustice, and people followed in his footsteps. He led
them, and India, to independence ... because his life proved, by example, that
it could be done.
Keep your word. Look at legendary
businessman, Jack Welch of General Electric. He wanted his team "turned
loose," and he promised to listen to ideas from anyone in the company. And
he did. Everyone from the lowest line workers to senior managers got his
attention ... if they had something to say or a new idea that might make the
company better. It wasn't just "talk," and it didn't take his team
long to figure that out. Welch listened and people in GE soon learned
that Welch always kept his word.
Don't ask for more than you're willing to give. If you ask a coworker to do something, make sure you'd be willing to do
Follow the same rules as everyone else. If you implement new rules for the office, then follow those rules just
as closely as you expect everyone else to follow them. For example, if the new
rule is "no personal calls at work," then don't talk to your spouse
at work. You'll be seen as dishonest your staff may become angry and start
Demonstrate effective listening. If you criticize people for interrupting, but you constantly do it
yourself, you need to fix this. Yes, you want people to pay attention to one
another and listen to all viewpoints, so you need to create that norm by
demonstrating your own effective listing.
Walk your talk. If, in the spirit of goodwill,
you make a rule for everyone to leave the office at 5:00 P.M. then you
need to do it too. If you stay late to get more work done, your team may feel
guilty and start staying late too, which can destroy the whole purpose of the
rule. The same is true for something like a lunch break. If you want your
team to take a full hour to rest and relax, then you need to do it too.
I absolutely believe that every leader ... ones with a formal
title and even the ones with informal leadership responsibilities ... need
leadership development training. Very few people are "natural born
leaders." Until you get that training, however, make sure you do at
least one thing ... lead by example.
What are two areas in your life where your talk and your walk do
not match? What changes do you need to make so you DO lead by example?
Read and Respond Online
About the author:
As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional
speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman is focused on "transforming the people side of
business.” His keynotes and seminars are noted for high content, high energy,
and high involvement that transform people's lives and the companies where they
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