Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The power of leadership by example

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 24, 2010

I offer this as a lesson learned by example and from personal experience. It deals with an issue that can be crucially important to a new and first time manager, but it is one that anyone with supervisory responsibilities needs to think and act in terms of. When you manage others, when you lead you do find yourself assigning tasks and delegating authority. You can do this because you carry the authority to do so by virtue of your title and your position on the table of organization. Very often, your voice and your decisions carry weight by virtue of your experience and expertise too. But ultimately, the strongest factor you have available to you in motivating others to follow your lead is in the example you set.

I have said on a number of occasions in this blog that the best teachers I have had in management and leadership have included the worst managers and leaders I have worked with, or worked for. Thinking back on that, the worst of them have all had at least one quality in common, and it is the consequences of this quality that made them so inept and ineffectual. They did not lead by example. They would delegate but not do themselves. They would demand more effective communication but never quite tell their people they supervise what they need or prefer in the way of information and feedback. They would micromanage and let slip on the larger details that should be their focus of attention. The list is long and these are only a few ways that a failure to lead by example can express itself. Individually and collectively these choices and actions all erode credibility and trust. They destroy the capacity to lead by sowing doubt.

• Ask yourself what you would most want and need to see from your supervisor if you were in the position of one of the people you supervise.
• Ask what the members of your team would need to see and need to see done.
• Ask what your team’s stakeholders would need to see and need to see done.
• Remember that you are still primarily a member of the team you lead even as you lead them and that as soon as you separate yourself from the people you lead as a being apart, you start limiting your ability to lead them.

Managers, or at least good ones have to maintain a sense of fairness and objectivity and that often does involve separation on the social and interpersonal level. But you need to be an active, involved member of your team and an example setting member for the tasks and priorities that your team as a whole is responsible for.

Tomorrow is going to be December 25, 2010 and Christmas and the year is rapidly coming to a close. I find myself thinking of change and transition, and in a lot of contexts. I offer this as a thought I would offer in preparation for the year to come. Think through what it means in your business and for your team in it to lead by example. Ask yourself where you may be succeeding in this and where you may not be doing this as effectively as you could or should.

Management and leadership are open ended learning curves – art at least as much as science and practices that can always be improved upon with experience. This is a place to look for opportunity to improve.

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