Why do people say the best leaders lead by example?
If this is true, it provides a great insight on how to become a great leader. Just set an example, right? That can’t be the end of it. People aren’t saying that a great leader sets a bad example. So it stands to reason that someone who does a great job leading by example sets a great example. It is probably equally true that a bad leader may be bad because of a bad example.
So how should an aspiring great leader set a great example? I process this (and most) leadership question(s) through my frame work for Leadership Results, which simply states that they (the results of your leadership) are equal to Vision raised to the power of Influence.
The circumstances of your leadership position require unique considerations. The principle is true, no matter if you sit in the CEO’s chair or work as a Production Supervisor. Each (and all others) has an opportunity to be a great leader by example. Both the CEO and Supervisor have two levers available to them. Vision is the whats, the wheres, and the whens. Influence is the hows and the whys.
The CEO may decide to enter the widget market (what) in North America (where) in Q2 of 2011 (when). He/She will accomplish it by allocating resources (how) to achieve the growth objectives of his/her firm (why).
The Supervisor will decide to build widgets (what) on assembly lines 6, 7, and 8 (where) on-time per customer requirements (when). He/She will accomplish it by training the labor force and communicating expectations (how) to achieve productivity, quality, and efficiency objectives of his/her firm (why).
You may identify more closely with one or the other. However, the circumstance-specific considerations of Vision and Influence applies to each leadership scenario. If we’re impressed by the results of either leader, we can look back at the things he/she did along the way to “set a good example.” The leader knew what to do, where to do it, and when it needed done. In other words, the leader had a positive Vision. Furthermore, the leader knew both how and why to do it as well. The leader also had a positive Influence. So the leader ends up with positive results, interpreted by observers (those led or outsiders) as a great example. The observer walks away and has occasion to say that the best leaders lead by example!
I’d encourage you to consider the example you set in terms of Vision and Influence. If you’re satisfied, congratulations! You’re well on your way to being described as a great leader by example. Oh, one little caveat… That description will only come if the observers of your leadership agree that the example is positive. However, if you’re not confident your example will stand up to close scrutiny, I offer you two levers to motivate change: Vision and Influence. Use them, but use them wisely!