Leading by ExampleJan 10, 2023
Are you in a position of leadership in your organization? If so, you’ve probably spent at least some time considering your leadership style. You might have even read books or watched TED talks that invite you to consider questions like, what strengths do you bring to the table? Or, how can you motivate others to do their best work?
Of course, there’s no one right way to lead. Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of learning from many different kinds of leaders. What I’ve noticed is that regardless of their personality traits and style, the best leaders know how to lead by example. That is, they know how to set the tone of the organization by the way they go about their work. Great leaders know they’re not exempt from the rules, but see themselves as part of the team working to accomplish something together.
Why Leading By Example Is Important
If leading by example is not something you’ve spent much time thinking about before this moment, now is the time. Healthy workplace culture is no longer just a nice-to-have; it’s becoming a competitive advantage, too. In an age where authenticity and transparency are more and more important to employees, people want to see leaders who walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Businesses that prioritize balance and wellness can better attract and retain employees—which is especially essential in a tight labor market.
You Already Lead By Example Whether You Realize It or Not
If you think about it, every leader leads by example. Simply by being in a highly visible role, your employees will be watching and noticing how you work and behave. The question, then, is not whether you should lead by example, but how to lead by example better. What kind of message are you sending your employees? Would they be able to see the core values of your company in the way you work?
How to Lead By Example With Intention
With a healthy dose of humility and a disclaimer that I am still a work in progress, I am sharing the principles I’ve tried to adopt at McMillion Consulting to lead by example with intention.
1. Create clear expectations.
One of the best things you can do to lead by example is to set clear expectations. This process starts from the moment you begin onboarding a new team member and it never stops. The way I like to think about it, 80 to 90 percent of a person’s role should be well-defined on day one. The other 10 to 20 percent is fluid, but leaving more than that undefined makes it difficult for people to excel.
Your teammates should know not only what’s expected of them, but also what they can expect from you. At McMillion Consulting, our team works remotely with flexible hours. We all love this arrangement because we each have the freedom to tackle tasks wherever and whenever we can do our best work. For this flexibility to work in practice, however, we all need a shared understanding of our values and goals.
Recently, I asked my team what we value, and I was pleased to hear that we’re all on the same page. Michaela, who serves as a Project Manager and Administrative Support, put it best:
Lindsey and McMillion Consulting value efficient work in a team member! Because we want our client’s experience to be exceptional, Lindsey and her team are careful to hire people who catch the small details or mistakes and have an eye for consistency.
Ideally, everyone on your team should be able to tell you exactly what you’re trying to accomplish together. Your example should reinforce your company values and demonstrate what they look like in practice.
2. Communication is key.
Without good communication, you risk misinterpretation of your actions. Any time you do something as a leader that might be confusing for your team, use words to create clarity. For example, when I hired our most recent team member, I told her, “I might be working late at night or on the weekends sometimes, but that’s not my expectation of you. I expect that work gets done by the due date.” When your actions are unclear and without context, you won’t be very effective at leading by example. As someone who has worked under others who did not communicate well, I can tell you that vagueness creates a great deal of unnecessary stress.
By communicating well about your actions, you also set an example of strong communication among your team members. I’m continually impressed by and so thankful for my team’s ability to proactively reach out whenever they run into something that could affect their work. A strong culture of communication benefits everyone and acts as a reinforcing process. Your team should think, “Because my boss and teammates have communicated well with me, I’ll do the same for them.”
3. Appreciate your team’s talents.
All leaders have blind spots and areas of weakness. One benefit of leading is that you benefit from the strengths, experiences, and knowledge other people bring to your team. High-functioning teams feel the freedom to add their input when appropriate and contribute with confidence. That sense of freedom starts with the example you set as a leader.
I know a lot about what works and what doesn’t for my business, but that doesn’t mean I know it all. I aim to lead by example by inviting others to weigh in on decisions and provide feedback. Having been in an individual contributor role before, I know it takes courage to speak up, so when my team members do weigh in, I always try to demonstrate my appreciation, even if we don’t agree on the best way to proceed.
Putting It Into Practice
Leading by example might feel like a lot of pressure, but it’s important to remember that everyone has bad days. You won’t always do everything right. The important thing is to be transparent when you fail. Ultimately, your team will respect a self-aware leader who embodies the values they espouse most of the time more than someone who regularly behaves in a way that’s at odds with what they expect of their employees.
Speaking of leading and engaging with people well, I want to remind you about my mini-course, The Key Pillars to Using LinkedIn the Right Way. As you can probably tell, I’m passionate about equipping people to excel, and that’s what I sought to do when I created this resource. In this quick and efficient 20-minute training, you’ll learn which people are essential in your network and how to yield opportunities from your existing network. Think of this as an easy way to lead by example and invest in your growth.