Leading by Example – Making Sure You “Walk the Talk”

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 usually take its place.

If you’re in a leadership position, then you know that you have a responsibility to your team. They look to you for guidance and strength; that’s part of what being a leader is. And a big part of your responsibility is to lead them with your own actions.

So, why is it so important to lead by example; and what happens when you don’t?

Why It Matters?

As a leader, part of your job is to inspire the people around you to push them – and, in turn, the company – to greatness. To do this, you must show them the way by doing it yourself.

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.

Although Gandhi’s situation is very different from yours, the principle is the same. When you lead by example, you create a picture of what’s possible. People can look at you and say, “Well, if he can do it, I can do it.” When you lead by example, you make it easy for others to follow you.

Look at legendary businessman, Jack Welch of General Electric. Welch knew that to push GE to new heights, he had to turn everything upside down. So that’s just what he did.

He developed the whole idea of a “boundary less organization.” This means that everyone is free to brainstorm and think of ideas – instead of waiting for someone “higher up” in the bureaucracy to think of them first. 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 stayed true to his passions and what he knew was right. As a result, GE became an incredibly successful company under his management. His team was always willing to follow his lead, because the people within it knew that he always kept his word.

What does this mean for you? If you give yourself to your team and show them the way, then, most likely, they’ll follow you anywhere.

When leaders don’t “practice what they preach,” it can be almost impossible for a team to work together successfully. How can anyone trust a leader who talks about one thing, but does another?

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.

Do you think that Alexander the Great’s soldiers would have fought so hard for him if he had sat on top of a hill, safe from the battle? Probably not. He would have been just another average general in our history books, instead of the example of a successful leader that we know today.

And so it is with your team. If you say one thing and do another, they likely won’t follow you enthusiastically. Why should they? Everything you tell them after that may meet with suspicion and doubt. They may not trust that you’re doing the right thing, or that you know what you’re talking about. They may no longer believe in you.

Good leaders push their people forward with excitement, inspiration, trust, and vision. If you lead a team that doesn’t trust you, productivity will drop. Enthusiasm may disappear. The vision you’re trying so hard to make happen may lose its appeal, all because your team doesn’t trust you anymore.

© Mind Tools Ltd

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