Walk the Talk: 12 Ways to Lead by Example
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”—John C. Maxwell
Leadership isn’t just about the title or the position. At the heart of it, leadership is about sparking change by being the change that you want to see in others, whether it is in your family or your business. You are responsible for guiding your people with a strong vision, showing them through your practices, habits, and behaviors what is expected of them. You set the bar for excellence and are responsible for modeling that excellence. The way you behave to achieve goals and/or overcome failures becomes the benchmark for how the people following you will behave.
And when you show that your words and actions are aligned with the values you preach, your people are motivated to mirror those behaviors. They learn from their mistakes and are not afraid to contribute meaningful ideas that spark further change and growth.
But when you say one thing and do another, you lose your credibility, and the people looking at you will lose trust in you. As kids, you’ve probably heard your parents tell you, or if you are parents, you might have told your kids at some point: “Do as I say, not as I do.” We all know how effective that is. Sure, they might do it for a time, just because they are afraid of punishment. But the behavior learned is not internalized because there is this questioning in their mind. “You don’t do it, so why would I?”
That is not to say you have to be perfect. You won’t always get it right, and you’ll make mistakes along the way. It’s normal. You are human. But what matters is that you consistently strive towards the ideals you have set and that you expect from them. When the people you lead see this drive to be better, they get energized and motivated to follow in your footsteps and strive to better themselves as well.
That is how important it is to practice what you preach. You can only ever lead by being an example to others. Your lived experiences and behavior speak loud and clear about what kind of leader you are.
Here are 12 ways you can lead by example:
- Do as you say and be consistent. This is the core of what it means to lead by example. You verbalize your beliefs and values and build habits to act on those beliefs and values. It starts with your mindset, but the tenacity and consistency to work towards realizing your ideals are what separates a good leader from a poor one.
- Lead with empathy and kindness. This is what I always tell my team and what I teach my kid. When you communicate with others, pay attention to the words you use and the tonality with which you deliver them. Healthy communication benefits everyone. It ensures you got the right message across, and it opens up people to be more receptive to the message you delivered.
- Work on sharpening your skills. A blunt weapon is a useless weapon. If you don’t work on yourself and your skills, you won’t be able to effectively lead the team. Competence is one of the three pillars that makes a person trustworthy. Besides, if you expect greatness from others, you must strive to be great yourself.
Get your hands dirty. Do the work and know your trade. Work on your leadership skills in order to better serve and lead your people and build stronger teams. Be the baseline and standard of excellence.
- Follow through on your promises. If you tell someone you will do the thing, do it. If for some reason, you won’t be able to get it done in the time agreed upon, take responsibility and communicate it properly. But always follow through on your promises.
This applies to your business and family. Customers don’t like flaky businesses that can’t deliver on their word, and your spouse and kids won’t appreciate you going back on your promises. There are times when it can’t be helped, but do your best to do it anyway. Or don’t make any promises at all.
- Take care of yourself. This is something a lot of us struggle with. With burnout being at “epidemic” levels across the globe, leaders always tell others to take care of themselves, yet they are the ones who burn the midnight oil and stay restless. If you want to promote health and well-being, you have to start with yourself.
- Fail forward. Failures will come, no matter how prepared or skilled you are. And that is okay. Learn from those failures and overcome them. Look forward to informing your future decisions and actions from the lessons you’ve learned from those mistakes. Show others how to bounce back from failure, and suddenly you will see the positive and productive change: Your people start looking at challenges as opportunities to grow from, instead of obstacles to avoid. Let yourself and others fail and grow from it.
- Practice ethical leadership. All leaders and businesses should be ethical in their practices. We want to be bringers of positive impact to the world. We strive to offer solutions to problems, not create more rift and discord in a frankly already chaotic world. Be up-to-date and informed about what is ethical and do right by it, and others, at least those within your influence, will follow.
- Handle conflict constructively. Show people how to properly deal with discord in a way that builds, not destroys. Conflicts are inevitable, and they are often great opportunities that stretch us and teach us. When views and opinions collide, it is a way for us to see different perspectives and find better solutions. Teach yourself and your people how to be constructive in the face of conflict.
- Value others. Respect and trust have to be mutual. Appreciate others, value their contributions, and make sure they know that you see and appreciate them. If you don’t respect and trust the people who follow you, they can’t respect and trust you. It has to be a give and take, and often it has to start with you.
- Have extreme ownership. You are responsible for your thoughts and actions, and a good leader knows how to take extreme ownership of those things. Yes, you can’t help the environment and upbringing you grew up in, but you have the option to learn and break free from those things. Don’t try to pass the blame and responsibility to others. Be responsible for them.
- Plan before taking action. As a leader, your team or your family look to you to guide them. The responsible thing is to make sure everyone is prepared before taking action. Consistent planning ahead and checking your progress are key to ensuring that the boat you are steering is going in the right direction.
- Reflect. The more you reflect, the more you become aware of yourself, who you are, who you want to be, where you are right now, how far you’ve gotten, and how much more you have to go to get to your destination.
Reflection also allows us to internalize the lessons we’ve learned and solidify the behaviors, practices, and habits we’ve built along the way. It also gives us a clearer view of where we can improve and what needs to change. Plus, it allows us time to appreciate all the progress we’ve made and appreciate the journey we experienced to get where we are, and be excited for the rest of the journey ahead.
Let your life be the most potent and powerful tool in your toolkit for leading. And as Rick Carlow said, leading by example can be summarized in four things: “Say it, do it, coach it! Live it!”
Thanks for reading A Brilliant Tribe.