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The Superpower of Leading by Example

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012
Posted in Management by Joel Gross

Leading by example is a well-known and highly effective management technique documented in both the business world and in the military.  Humans naturally copy the behaviors of other humans around them in their social group.  The attitude and approach to work that one member takes often filters out to all the rest of the humans.

So what does leading by example mean in the context of a small business?

  1. The owner or CEO needs to demonstrate the behaviors that they are encouraging in employees
  2. Managers and other employees need to be encouraged to demonstrate desired behaviors
  3. Desired behaviors must be clearly outlined and then performed by everyone

1. Leading by Example: Starting at the top, demonstrate behaviors desired

Do you want employees to go above and beyond the call of duty in getting their jobs done? Do you want them to care about the bottom line of the business and the stated primary goals as much as you do?  You need to walk the talk and SHOW them that you truly believe it by pursuing it yourself.  If you show up at 10am each day and work till 4 and spend most of your free time golfing, do you expect your employees to put in 12 hour days? You must be insane if you do.  Would you work 12 hour days for a leader like that?

I am still new to management (only two full years managing people so far), but I do know that you must lead by example.  Every single day, I am the first person to start work (usually by 7:30am) and generally the last person to finish work (usually finish up around 9).  All of my employees understand my schedule:

7:30-1: Work
1-2:  Power nap
2-6:30: Work
6:30-7:40: Exercise
8-9ish: Work

I also work in an open office environment, so when my employees walk by me they can see that I am working and not screwing around.  They actually can hear quite a few of my phone conversations so I am very transparent with them about how the business is operated.  My employees also see that I literally LIVE in my office as well.  We have a large live/work loft and 11 employees come in to the office each day (we also have 12 remote employees).

If I ask for an extra effort out of any of my people, they are generally not as resentful because they see me putting forth even more effort. I am still working hard to find better ways to inspire people to want to go above and beyond.

2. Leading by Example: Managers and other employees must also demonstrate key behaviors

People imitate the behaviors of their social group: not just the CEO or owner.  Thus it’s important for managers and key employees to also help take the lead in demonstrating the right behaviors.  Managers need to stay focused and on task and get excited about their work.  That excitement will spread virally to other employees.

3. Leading by Example: Everyone needs to participate

All of your employees need to understand that they are part of leading by example.  One rotten apple can ruin the whole group.  Good managers must be on the lookout for this and quickly make changes before disease spreads.