If you were to ask any leader to describe his or her style, you would likely hear a common phrase at some point in the response: “leading by example.”
Most leaders consider this an integral part of the role. And yet, when asked to describe exactly how they do this, many struggle to cite specific actions.
Leading by example is all about authenticity; it ensures leaders are “walking their talk.” They aren’t just saying the right things, they’re demonstrating them. Through their actions, leaders can show their team members exactly what they expect and what it looks like in day-to-day life. In turn, the team comes to see their leader as a living embodiment of the qualities required for success.
So, how does one lead by example? Here are a few simple actions to help leaders at all levels.
Also read: How Leaders Can Avoid Ivory Tower Syndrome
Celebrate the Wins of Others
To foster a collaborative, supportive team environment, leaders should always be at the forefront of celebration. When colleagues earn promotions or achieve exceptional results, leaders should acknowledge them—loudly and publicly. Freely distribute praise for a job well done, regardless of whether or not the individual is on your team or the accomplishment impacts you.
This kind of all-inclusive encouragement shows everyone that winning isn’t a zero-sum game. When others succeed, the organization as a whole benefits.
Demonstrate Exceptional Work Ethic
Leaders set an example when they show up each day prepared to give their absolute best to the task at hand. Instead of resting on their laurels, they remain consistently committed to the job, whether that means pulling a few late nights now and then or showing up for voluntary meetings even when they’d rather not.
When leaders relax their standards for their own work, team members notice. They begin to hold themselves to lower standards as well or resent the inequity of expectations. Conversely, when they see leaders steadily going above and beyond, they happily mimic that same behavior.
Leaders who want to foster a spirit of continuous team improvement should be willing and able to improve themselves. They must remain open to constructive critique and capable of adapting their approach.
Those who do this best not only accept feedback, they welcome it. They encourage team members to share their opinions and perspectives, and listen without judgment. When necessary, they make changes in how they do things and are quick to express gratitude for the insight.
Also read: How Managers Can Develop Self-Awareness
Tackle the Dogs
Leaders have the power to delegate and thus, it can be easy to pass the most unpleasant tasks and projects on to others. These “dogs” exist in nearly every workplace. No one wants them, but they have to get done.
Leaders who are setting a strong example will (at least sometimes) tackle the dogs themselves. In doing so, they can learn more about the struggles their team members face while, at the same time, demonstrate their own willingness to “take one for the team.”
Accept the Blame
The world’s best leaders understand that the buck stops with them. When things go wrong—as they inevitably do at times—the leader accepts responsibility. They aren’t afraid of acknowledging missteps. They are, after all, human. They don’t defend bad decisions or shift blame to others. Instead, they accept the consequences, learn from them, and take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Seeing this, team members gain immeasurable trust in their leaders.
The idea of leading by example may seem abstract, but it’s actually a very tangible, observable skill. It is, in many ways, the most effective form of leadership. It does, however, require more than eloquent speeches and PowerPoint presentations. It requires aligning your actions with your vision on a daily basis.