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How to Lead by Personal Example

How to Lead by Personal Example

Dave Anderson

A quick way to lose credibility is with a leadership style that says “don’t do as I do, do as I say”. If you’ve ever wondered why your people haven’t bought into you like you think they should, or how to earn even greater buy-in I suggest that doing a better job of leading by example is a great place to begin. Following are ten places to focus on in this regard:

  1. Be truthful. If “integrity” is one of your core values, but you instruct a receptionist to tell a caller you’re not in when you are, you’re a liar. You’ve also asked another to stoop to your level and lie. The next time you lecture your team on “doing the right thing” don’t let the rolled eyes, snickers or snorts surprise you.
  2. Keep commitments. Integrity is doing what you said you’d do, when you said you’d do it, and how you said you’d do it. When you fail to keep commitments most people don’t just forget and get over it. Rather, they doubt, distrust, or resent you; indefinitely.
  3. Remain teachable. This covers everything from reading books, to attending courses, to seeking out and listening to other’s feedback on how you and your business can improve. Becoming a “been there, done that” know-it-all is evidence of your complacency and a first step towards decline. Besides, you have no credibility to admonish your people to improve their skills, habits and attitude when you’ve stopped working on your own.
  4. Pitch in. This doesn’t mean you micromanage, or leave your strength zone often or for long; it does include jumping in the trenches when the team needs help and getting your hands “dirty”: washing a car, sweeping a floor, shoveling snow or waiting on a customer. If you’ve gotten to a point where you believe certain jobs are beneath you, you’re an arrogant, entitled sloth, and I’d like to extend my sympathies to those suffering under your narcissistic reign of terror.
  5. Don’t whine. Whine is defined as “to snivel or complain in a self-pitying manner”. No one wants to hear what a tough job their leader has, or about his or her bad breaks. In fact, whining is a repellant; no one wants to listen to you or be around you. Whining makes you ordinary, boring and despicable; it makes those around you want to wrap your head in crime scene tape. Perhaps it’ll help to realize that everyone you’re whining to has their own problems, and ninety percent of them don’t care about your problems, while the other ten percent are happy you have them.
  6. Accept responsibility. You don’t deserve credit for all that goes well in your area of leadership, nor do you deserve the blame for all that goes wrong. But you’re still responsible for the results of your position. When your people see you taking responsibility they’re more likely to do likewise. When they see you finger-point and hear you blame, you teach them to do the same. If you’re not willing to own your results then get out of leadership, because it comes with the territory.
  7. Be tough-minded. Tough-mindedness doesn’t mean you’re a bully, disrespectful or harsh. It does mean you stand for something; that you’re strong willed, vigorous and not easily swayed.  Tough-mindedness shows your team you won’t compromise your values and look the other way when a top performer violates them. They see you hiring slow, even when you’re desperate for coverage, because you know it’s better to be strategically short-staffed than foolishly filled up. On the other hand, followers consider a “leader” who doesn’t hold people accountable, or make the tough calls, as nothing more than a pretender with a title. They mock your tough talk when it’s followed by a wimp’s walk. You confuse the team because one day you stand for something and the next day you compromise with what’s right.
  8. Serve people. You serve others by setting clear expectations for them, giving them honest feedback, training and coaching them, empowering them with increased latitude and discretion, and by caring enough to confront them when they’re off track so they can right their course. Serving is about adding value to people, not waiting for them to add value to you. Serving requires strength because you subordinate your own ego and comfort to promote the welfare of others; you make it about the team, rather than about yourself. Frankly, serving requires you to get over yourself, and to realize that if you’re “lonely at the top” it’s because you’ve put yourself on a pedestal.
  9. Demonstrate consistency. You should start increasing consistency with the prior eight areas. When your team knows what to expect from you, and is clear about where you stand they initiate more confidently, make decisions faster and are empowered by their own sense of assurance that what they’re doing is correct and effective. This can only happen if your values and behaviors are consistent. Inconsistency in the prior eight areas confuses followers, stifles initiative, curtails creativity and demotes potentially committed stakeholders to compliant, driven stakes. Consistent is defined as “constantly adhering to the same principles”. Thus, consistency can actually work against you if your principles are corrupt or ineffective. By constantly adhering to the right principles you earn a reputation as being a leader with a level of competence and character that’s worth following.  The bottom line is that inconsistency in vital disciplines is a sign of weakness, lack of focus, little heart and anemic drive. If you’re a sloppy leader you’ll attract and produce sloppy followers, create a sloppy culture, and produce sloppy results. And no one with a lick of sense wants to entrust their future into the hands of a leadership slob.

By following points like the preceding nine you’ll effectively lead by personal example. Compromising in these areas because you think you’re above them, or because it’s easier for you is leading by personal convenience; a surefire recipe to reap compliance, but never to earn commitment.

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