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Leading by Example

Taking over the top job, be it team leader or CEO, is never easy.

When it is done the right way, we call it leadership; when it is done the wrong way, we call it a disaster. It falls to the person in charge to give people a reason to believe in that person’s talents and ability to get people to work together.

Leaders are those who make good things happen. One of the best ways they do it is by giving people a reason to believe and to follow. That’s simple and easy to say, but it takes a lifetime of trying to put into practice. There are no shortcuts, but there are signposts. The job of a manager is to get the system running; it is the job of the leader to turn on the system, and, more especially, to get others to turn it on. There are four ways to do this:
  1. Set the right example. Our concept of a leader may be shaped in part by the nineteenth century model of a cavalry officer. This person earned his position because he could outride, outshoot, and outdrink every man in his regiment, not to mention outcharm all the ladies. There is a germ of truth in the cavalry officer’s approach to leadership, and that is capability to do the job and do it well. Employees have to know that their leader has what it takes to do the job. Today’s executive jobs are less physical (save for global travel), but they do demand critical thinking skills. Leaders need to communicate by example that they have the smarts to handle the job.

  2. Act the part. A mantra of the entertainment industry is that it is show business. (Not the accent on show.) For producers, this means they must provide some sizzle with their ideas; for actors, it means they must put their heart into their roles. The same sense of show applies to leadership. You have to demonstrate that you are in charge and that you have what it takes. And better yet, you love it. Look at videos of Ronald Reagan as president; from his radiant smile to his confident step it was clear that he loved his job, every minute of it. And as a trained actor, he knew how to project that confidence. Acting the part of a leader requires a willingness to get out of your skin and connect with others. It’s not dissembling; it is authentic communications when it comes from your heart and is rooted in your values as a leader.

  3. Handle the tough stuff. Few people in high places get there without being knocked over a few times. Being flattened is nothing to be ashamed of; how you rise to your feet is what counts. If you do it by acknowledging your shortcomings and then set about remedying it through further education, training, or even experience, you demonstrate that you have resilience. Employees deserve leaders who know how to bend, but not break. Such leaders handle the issues that make everyone else weak in the knees—a fierce new competitor, a pending merger, or conflict in the workplace. They need to know that their leader has the heart to embrace a challenge and the guts not to break down in the face of adversity. They also need to know that their leader has brains enough to back off from the impossible so as not to break the organization. Savvy leaders pick their moments carefully; tough leaders persevere.

  4. Put the team first. Leadership is not a solo act; leaders point the way, but others carry the load. Therefore, the person in charge earns credibility by working collaboratively with the team as well as sharing credit for any success. More especially, leaders who stand in the spotlight when things go poorly earn more than respect; they gain the hearts and minds of their followers. Such commitment, nurtured by respect for individual and collective abilities, will prepare leader and team to accomplish more in the future.

Command is granted; leadership is earned. That’s an adage that governs our military. People are put into positions of authority, but it is up to the individual to earn the respect and trust of his followers. The chief coin of such earning is example. When followers see the leader doing what is right for the team; that is, supporting, developing, nurturing, and defending in good times and bad, they grant their trust. The same trust-building revenue applies to individuals. Managers who put the interests of their people first by finding ways to help them grow, develop, and take on more responsibilities cease to be mere managers; they are leaders of men and women who have earned their rank by giving their people a reason to believe.

Top 15 Things Leaders Need to Know to Inspire Results

  1. Demonstrate character. It forms the foundation of everything a leader says and does.
  2. Be accountable for your actions and responsible for the actions of others.
  3. Check your ego at the door (and keep it there).
  4. Promote resilience. There is no shame in getting knocked down; it’s getting back up that matters.
  5. Get in the habit of asking questions but do not expect easy answers. Make it safe for people to ask you questions, too.
  6. Manage around obstacles. The path to fulfilled goals is seldom straight.
  7. Management is the discipline of detail. Leadership is the art of thinking beyond details in order to make things better.
  8.  Drive innovation by encouraging everyone on the team to think and act creatively. Good ideas can come from anyone at anytime.
  9. Encourage dissent about issues but promote civility around people.
  10. Create a winning culture so that people feel confident about themselves and their work.
  11. Change always happens. Learn to anticipate, embrace, and adapt to it and teach others to do the same.
  12. Teach others “the how” —then get out of the way and let people do their jobs.
  13. Honor tradition but seek to do things that benefit people today and for tomorrow.
  14. Get off the pedestal. Leadership is less about who you are than what you do!
  15.  Lighten up. Take the work (but not yourself) seriously!

Adapted from Lead By Example: 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results (AMACOM 2008) by John Baldoni.