Those that fully understand the power of the statement above, know that it can be the difference between management and leadership. A manager is going to have thoughts and may even make comments like “I can’t do anything to motivate them”, “what I am telling them to do is common sense and they just don’t get it”, and “They just don’t care”. We too have these thoughts as leaders, but the difference is in what we do next. We must be someone they can emulate, or we must have someone on our team to connect them to. We can preach and give feedback all we want, but what motivation is there to “care” if there is no one setting the example?
The most seasoned leaders do this consistently right from the beginning to avoid frustration. An example is to immediately connect the person with a mentor when you first start working together (this can be you if there is not a better person). Connecting someone to a mentor sends the message that it is someone you hold with high regard, and someone they should learn from. Ironically, “the boss” is sometimes the toughest person to learn from, especially if you had their role in the organization before reaching your position. It is easy for them to think that they can never be that good and therefore discount some of the things that they should be learning from you. A perfect example is coming in early and working late – if the boss does it, they are a workaholic, but if a peer does it, the belief is that it is a core behavior that makes them a success and therefore has a better chance of being emulated. In this situation it is best to connect them with a high performing peer in the organization – or even outside the organization.
Leading by example, whether done by us or others under our leadership, will continue to be the most powerful method of helping others grow. It is also something we must do constantly because just when we think we have someone on the right track, something will derail the situation and we must step in once again. Take me for example, there have been many times when I am hitting on all cylinders and something happens in my professional or personal life to really cause distraction. Rather than bore you with the details, what I have learned firsthand is that my mentors/leaders around me, sensed what was going on and reacted by connecting with me on the subject and telling me their own story, or better yet, facilitating the connection between me and someone else that may have been more appropriate. In a sense, I have learned to give people someone to follow in their time of need (whether it be me or someone else), from the very people who have done it for me.
Leading by example is indirect and therefore takes patience, but it will have the most powerful long-lasting effect of any method we use.