Margaret Thatcher famously said:
Don't follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you.
Most people spend their lives chasing crowds. They are focused on jumping on the next hot trend. They want to follow where other people are going. It's much easier to follow than it is to lead. Learning to lead by example is a matter of practice and experience. Once you have mastered how to lead by example, you will build trust and loyalty in any organization.
Through my experience at Topsheet, I have learned tremendously about leading by example. It is one of the few skills that help you gain credibility no matter where you go. Developing your leadership skills helps you thrive in any organization. These are key interpersonal skills that allows you to build trust and unite people. I have condensed my learning into ten main points to help you become a better leader and lead by example:
1. Be Mindful About Your Words
Your words really matter. It has a massive impact on morale. It can and will be used against you later on. You should always be mindful of what you are saying, and who is listening when you say it. This includes everything you say online as well -- everything on the Internet lives forever. If you need to give critical feedback, provide it directly behind closed doors.
People who are respected and trusted use words to build others up. Leaders help people see and believe in a better future. Leaders should commit to the words they speak. Direct reports want to see their leaders walk the talk. Leaders who follow through with what they say have much more credibility than leaders that don't.
2. Develop Your Time Management Skills
Your most valuable asset is time. It's the one asset that you can never get back. Everything else, like money or property, can be recovered with proper strategies. Don't waste your own time. Don't let others waste your time. Be willing to say no to people. Dedicate your time to tasks, things, and people that help you become your ideal self.
Go into every meeting with an objective. Start by stating what the intended outcome should be (e.g. By the end of this meeting, we should have a plan for our strategic partnership). Use goal setting as a way to achieve your desired outcomes. Learn to allocate time effectively to live your best life.
3. Be Willing to Do the Work
Most leaders aren't willing to get their hands dirty. Set yourself apart by doing the work and learning your craft. You need to have a deep and innate understanding of your field. Knowledge is the major differentiator between people that succeed versus people that do not.
Leaders have a lot of responsibilities. But the team respects a leader that is willing to work alongside them when required. Doing the work is how you can build trust and develop your knowledge and skills.
4. Don't Gossip
Gossip is the fastest way to destroy trust and rapport in any team. When people get the impression that you are talking behind their back, they will never trust you again. People will never follow a leader that is willing to bad-mouth others from the shadows.
Be willing to have tough conversations. Be willing to address confrontations with people. Don't let resentments boil up into anger. When you notice someone not performing well, be willing to have a conversation with them directly. Come from a point of empathy. Talk to people as you'd like to be talked to.
5. Understand the Chain of Command
All team members need to respect the chain of command. When starting an organization, there should be an effective chain of command establish to create process and reduce confusion. In a democratic leadership structure, good leaders don't bypass their direct reports. They listen to people before making any decision. Good cultures empower employees to have a say in the business direction.
6. Listen to Your Direct Reports
A good leader should spend more time listening than talking. Most people in leadership positions today care more about being heard than really leading. They spend an exorbitant amount of time listening to their own voice. They spend really little time listening to the people they work with. To be a more effective leader, try to listen first and talk last.
When President John F. Kennedy visited NASA in 1961, he introduced himself to a janitor mopping the floor. He asked what the janitor did at NASA. The janitor replied:
"I'm helping put a man on the moon".
Good leaders have incredible communication skills. They effectively communicate their vision to all levels of the organization. They are also willing to hear the words and brilliance of their direct reports.
7. Be Willing to Accept Responsibility
Being a leader is a lonely position. You need to be willing to accept the responsibility in the good times and the bad. Great leaders know when a mistake has been made in the organization. They know they are responsible for making it right. It doesn't matter if someone on your team screwed up or you did. Ultimately as the leader, you will need to step up and take responsibility. This is called radical accountability.
Don't waste time playing the blame game. It's neither effective for productivity nor conducive to morale. The blame game is how you instill fear in an organization. It makes you repellent as a leader and makes people not want to work with you.
8. Encourage Your Team
Be willing to share positivity with your team. They should be commended for doing good work. A good leader uses encouragement to build up morale. A good leader will use kindness and care to make people more productive.
Jackie Chan once said:
Sometimes it takes only one act of kindness and caring to change a person’s life.
You will never know the impact of your kindness. Be willing to pay it forward and create a more loving culture.
9. Learn to Trust Your Team
No one likes a micromanager. Learn to put your teammates ahead of yourself. As the leader, your job is to sell the mission, vision, and goals of the organization. Learn to step back and watch the magic happen. If you have recruited the right people to be in your organization, they will exponentially boost the output if they are fully committed to the organizational goals.
10. Take Care of Yourself
As a leader, it's easy to burn out. People will want to draw on your time. People will want to draw on your resources. Learn to look after your own mental and physical wellness.
The more you take care of yourself mentally, spiritually, and physically, the more energy you will have to contribute to the team. Start getting in shape. Start getting your mind right. Start creating the right routines and habits. These things will help you lead by example in the long-run.
Leading by example takes emotional intelligence. It requires learning from the right leadership examples. No matter if you are a project manager or on certain management teams, you will be required to lead by example. Be willing to get your hands dirty. Be willing to listen to your direct reports. Learn to put your team ahead of yourself. Remember: "Good leaders always eat last." Being a leader is not about putting yourself above everyone else. It's all about helping your organization thrive. If you abide by these principles, you will be able to succeed in any organization you join.