A leader who fails to lead by example soon finds himself leading no one. Elephant leaders grow in influence and inspire others to follow by the example they set.
Always do everything you ask of those you command.
— George S. Patton
I recently introduced elephant matriarchs as a good example of natural leaders. They are respected by the herd for their long history of good decision-making and compassion for others. They exhibit courage, wisdom, and excellent work ethic. These are all admirable and important attributes, but the defining characteristic of a leader is influence. As John Maxwell so aptly states in his book Developing the Leader Within You, “Leadership Is Influence: Nothing More, Nothing Less.” Influence, however, is an earned attribute. It is not something innate within a person, nor can it be learned; it can only be amplified over time as one consistently demonstrates leadership to others.
Essential to gaining influence is leading by example. A leader who fails to lead by example soon finds himself leading no one. Potential followers will interpret the lack of action as a lack of commitment and look elsewhere for the leadership they need.
American WWII general George Patton’s convictions about leading by example are reflected in the quote above. Another important WWII general was Douglas MacArthur, who penned The MacArthur Tenets of Leadership outlining the principles by which he led. Among those tenets are principles whereby he acknowledges the importance of leading by example:
- Am I a constant example to my subordinates in character, dress, deportment and courtesy?
- Do I act in such a way as to make my subordinates WANT to follow me?
As a military general, MacArthur understood that he had to “lead from the front”. In order to be followed, he had to set an example that inspired his men to follow, that built trust. He understood that if he simply directed the battle from behind the lines, his troops would not have his courageous and confident example to follow, with potentially disastrous results.
Like good military generals or elephant matriarchs, leaders in professional services must build trust and influence by constantly offering themselves as examples for their teams and organizatons. If a project requires that team members work a weekend, the leader must make himself or herself available over the weekend as well, in support of that project team. If goals or self reviews are due from team members on a certain date, the leader must make certain that their own goals and self review is also completed by the appropriate date. This is leadership that inspires those that follow and creates influence, which in turn enables the leader to better lead.
Do you recall an example where you or another leader did something demonstrable that increased their influence and inspired others to follow? How about an instance where someone’s influence was damaged by their failure to lead by example? Leave a comment and share your experiences!