Five Ways to Lead by Example

Posted on March 22, 2010


Team Leadership, photo from

Countless articles have been written on the topic of “Leadership by Example”. This just goes to show that leadership by example is not just the more desired form of leadership (though not necessarily the most practiced) but also a more productive style of leadership. However, while these articles address the sheer necessity of leading by example, only a handful of these actually show us how we can take action to lead by example. In this leadership lesson on leading by example, we shall examine five areas of our workplace where we can instantaneously take action to lead by example and observe the massive benefits of doing so:

1. Punctuality. Facing a team who is perpetually late for work? You may decide to employ the principle of leading by example by always being the first to arrive, and last to leave. This effectively sends a signal to your team that you value punctuality in work, and they should take it seriously too. Compare this to a laid back manager who chides his team for being late for work but himself arrive the latest and you will realise that the failure to lead by example in this area can jeopardise the team’s performance.
2. Listening to Others. Having a team who never listens? Perhaps it is because they are too busy seeking to be heard. As the popular saying goes, “Seek first to understand, than to be understood.” Applying the concept of leadership by example, we may, as leaders, seek to hear out the issues of our team members before seeking their understanding in our intention. Here, it is worthy to take note that as we hope for our team members to seriously consider our views and rather than take our words with a pinch of salt, we also ought to listen with not just our ears but our heart too, showing that we really care.

3. Badmouthing. We may find our team to be embroiled in a culture whereby members are constantly badmouthing each other, minority members, or even higher management. If we examine ourselves at work, we may or may not also find it the case that we have also complained about certain individuals or groups ourselves. As the leader of the group, onus is often on us to set the working culture to be conducive for our team members to work in, both the “bad-mouthers” and victims of it, in that the “bad-mouthers” learn to take responsibility of their tasks rather than constantly blame others for their fate, and the victims to be able to work without having to suffer constant abusing and back-stabbing. Leadership by example would be the most ideal way to do so.

4. Taking Responsibility. Individuals who choose to blame anything that they can for their predicament, or for failure to achieve results, will be ever present, regardless of workplace or culture. The list runs endlessly, ranging from bad weather to the neighbour’s cat. Often, leadership by example in taking responsibility may be employed. This can be done by being accountable to the team for our actions, including our mistakes and oversights, rather than puting it off or finding an excuse. This way, our team members will realise their leader recognises that people do make mistakes, and it is acceptable to hold themselves accountable for it rather than blame bad traffic.

5. Probably the most vital area, to Overcome Negativity. As the leader of our team, we are answerable for the morale of the team. At times, the morale could hit rock bottom, for instance when the team has to work through a public holiday like Christmas, where they could be spending time with their family, or when the team failed to clinch a deal they worked hard for, to name a few. In many cases, the single person who is the most dejected, and has the right to be the most forlorn, is none other than the leader. However, bearing in mind his responsibilities as the leader, he may choose to lead by example, and carry himself with an infectious positive energy that spreads rapidly to the rest of the team members, making the environment more vibrant and exciting.

Many claim that leadership by example is the best way to lead. I go on to condemn the claim by saying that leadership by example is the only way to lead. Be it for autocratic leadership or democratic leadership, transformational or transactional leadership, failure to lead by example would massively undermine standards and create dissent in the double standards of the leader. As evident from the above areas of action, leading by example is none less than our responsibilities as leaders, and may the guidance of this article allow us to execute this responsibility of leadership well.

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