Is Leading by Example Overrated?

Leading by example may seem like an overly simple (and endlessly repeated) concept. So much so that you likely haven’t spent much time thinking about it in recent years because you already know that leading by example is important. But I hope you don’t dismiss this age-old principle as overrated or too obvious to even warrant reflection.

Because the concept of leading by example is so critically important to inspirational leadership, I firmly believe it is always worth revisiting. As Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing.”

When leaders don’t lead by example, when they don’t demonstrate the values touted within their organization, the consequences are highly destructive to the health and growth of the organization. Inspirational leaders know that whether they intend to or not, they are always leading by example; therefore they are very intentional about setting the right one.

As Michael Hyatt puts it, inspirational leaders “model the behavior they want others to manifest.” Day in and day out, they demonstrate core values through their words, actions, and attitudes—sometimes in big ways, but most often in little, everyday ways.

My good friend and colleague Harla Adams, CEO of NIHCL, offers some examples of ways in which inspirational leaders can demonstrate values on a daily basis:

“Show up on time for meetings, follow through on commitments, over deliver, be genuine, work on building strong relationships, extend grace, don’t put down others’ ideas or thoughts, always be willing to help others… When you lead by example people have a desire to return the same, to live up to the things that are important to you the leader, and hopefully to them as an individual. People are going to follow someone. Make them desire to follow you as an inspiring, caring, well-intentioned leader.”

It all starts at the top; inspirational leaders are devoted to a set of core values, and expect those they lead to do the same. As Susan M. Heathfield writes, “Living your values is one of the most powerful tools available to you to help you lead and influence others. Don’t waste your best opportunity.”

How about you, how do you lead by example? Have you recently witnessed someone setting an excellent example? Please share!

[This article is excerpted and adapted from Chapter 13 of my book, Be An Inspirational Leader]

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I am a leader, speaker, and author who is passionate about Leadership Excellence and Achieiving Greater Success. I am the author of the books Be An Inspirational Leader(2016) and Presidential Leadership (2013), and deliver keynote presentations on those topics and several others.

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