‘Leading by example’ – at first glance, this phrase may just seem like another corporate buzz-word, but look a little closer, and you’ll find a lot more beneath the surface.
What does it mean to lead by example?
Leading by example doesn’t only mean doing the same tasks as your employees to show them how it should be done; it means earning respect, establishing vulnerability, and showing integrity.
Although, as a leader, it may be our job to lead the team, that doesn’t automatically make us exempt from getting our hands dirty. In an environment where we have the power to sit back and allow others to do a task for us, it means more to step up and to get involved than it does to constantly delegate. In instances where a task is tough or uncomfortable, putting ourselves right in the middle of the job can provide our teams with the motivation they need to overcome their fears and get stuck in. Respect is never given; it’s earned, and leading by example is one way to earn your team’s respect by doing the very same tasks you are asking them to do. If there is drug testing at work, then have yourself tested first. If you expect a certain standard of work from your employees then go above and beyond to show them what that standard looks like.
On the surface, vulnerability and leadership are not two words that we associate with one another, but, in fact, showing that we can be vulnerable and are not impenetrable is an important part of being a good leader. How can leaders expect their teams to work as a family without displaying vulnerability? How can leaders expect their employees to come to them for help without showing that they themselves are human and require assistance from time to time? Admitting mistakes and confronting weaknesses in front of your team helps them to admit and confront their own for their own personal progression. Vulnerability in itself should not be seen as a weakness but instead as a strength, helping to forge a strong company culture that is built on empathy and respect.
Integrity is the practice of being honest and also showing a consistent adherence to your values. It is an essential component in any successful team, but most employees struggle to understand exactly what it looks like in the workplace without first seeing it come front the top down. If you have made a promise or a commitment to someone in your team, then you must show integrity by keeping it at all costs. Without showing your integrity on a day-to-day basis by maintaining your commitment to small tasks, you risk your team losing trust in you as a leader, and they may not be behind you when you need them to trust you with something larger.
So the next time you see the words ‘lead by example’ embossed on a notepad or passed down in a memo, sit back and think about what it really means to lead and how much of a difference your actions could make to the productivity and happiness of your team.
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