Leading by Example

“If there is such a thing as good leadership, it is to give a good example.” – Ingvar Kamprad (emphasis mine)

I hate double standards and hypocrisy. I really do. When someone applies rules and standards to you that don’t apply to them, at least three things happen: 1.) the rule and/or standard loses value, 2.) you lose respect for that person, and 3.) the relationship is damaged.

In business, as in life, you learn from those who have gone before you. When you were a child, you learned almost everything from your parents, from table manners, to saying thank you, to turning off the lights when leaving the room. Your first inclination was to mimic. It’s a strong inclination that stays with us (or at least, it stayed with me). But what if your parents didn’t like what they saw when you did it? Did they see and accept that you learned it from them, or did they ask you where you learned such a thing (or just blame it on a kid at daycare/school)? When someone is following your lead, be sure that you are actually showing them the behavior you wish to see. It makes life soooo much easier than to constantly set a bad example and reprimand for the results. If you don’t want your kids to use foul language, stop using it yourself (all the time, always, so it’s a habit). If you want your kids to say please and thank you, say it yourself. Setting the example you wish to see emulated gives more value to the standard, and shows respect for the follower. It’s win-win. It’s simple. No more “do as I say, not as I do”. People still quote Ghandi’s “be the change you wish to see in the world” because at some level we recognize that for someone – your child, your friends, your team – change starts with you. Doing things right, and doing what is right, starts with you. You are the only one you can control – but you can influence the others. Be a leader all the time.

Bringing it back to business: don’t be the manager who regularly comes in at 9:30 am and reprimands someone on the team for regularly coming in a 9 (because someone who arrives at 7 am doesn’t like that their teammate comes in at 9, even though they could come in at 9 as well). Don’t be the manager who flies off the handle at the rude guy in logistics, but demands the highest level of customer service from the team. Don’t be the manager who shows favoritism. Don’t be the manager who accepts sub-par work from the C players and demands the highest level of competence from the A players. It doesn’t just make you look bad, it’s bad for business when your best people leave. And they will leave. Why wouldn’t they? The grass may not be greener, but maybe they just want different grass.

So, remember your influence. Are you being the kind of manager you would like to for? If someone from your team followed your example, would you be proud? If someone from your team was interviewed (for a book or article on leadership), would they praise your fairness, or would they say that you were a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (and more often Mr. Hyde)? How about someone who used to work for you? Obviously, you can’t control what people will say or feel about you, but don’t give them specific examples of bad leadership.

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