Mind of the Manager

What works and what doesn't in the workplace

You'll Never Go Wrong Leading by Example

It makes people want to follow.

I always like it when I get article ideas from readers because chances are if something is of significant interest and concern to one person, it likely will be to many others as well.

Thus I took notice when @MahalHudson, responding to one of my recent posts, New Study Shows How High-Performing Companies Motivate Their People, commented on Twitter (with a bit of attitude), “Leaders are supposed to be role models and an inspiration, or am I delusional?”

To which I tweeted back, “No, not delusional—you’re right. #Leaders who are not good role models are not doing their job as leaders.”

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To which @MahalHudson tweeted back, “Thanks for looking at it that way. Someone should write a blog about this topic—#leaders as #rolemodels.”

Which brings us to the present. Not to say this subject hasn’t been written about before because of course it has…and not to say it isn’t reasonably obvious because admirable behavior should be a leadership imperative…but (as I’ve noted before in this space) just because something is common sense doesn’t mean it’s common practice.

In short, just because leaders should be leading by example doesn’t mean everyone’s always doing it. I figured a brief public reminder could do no harm.

So why should leaders be outstanding role models who lead by example?

Beyond any ethical considerations, there’s an exceedingly practical one: It’s effective.

It makes people want to follow.

It sets a fine example for those in the lower rungs of an organization, who are always carefully watching how their leaders behave.

It disarms any resentment that may be felt, rightly or wrongly, toward those in high places. Jack and Suzy Welch recently wrote a fascinating, provocative (and much commented-upon) article on LinkedIn, Are You a Boss-Hater? The article is worth reading, and worth noting in this context, because it’s difficult for anyone to hate bosses who clearly have their sleeves rolled up, who wade into the trenches when they need to, who share in the sacrifices they ask others to make…who are, simply put, exemplary role models.

On the flip side of this behavioral coin, being a poor role model, behaving badly, abusing power, not adhering to the same standards you ask others to…is the easiest and most needless way to undermine your own authority.

No exaggeration: I’ve personally seen high-powered careers obliterated and powerful companies almost brought to their knees by reckless leadership behavior. And the real tragedy is it’s entirely preventable. It has nothing to do with ability, but with judgment and self-discipline.

It’s so obvious, you don’t need to make the argument at any tedious length.

Let’s just say you’ll never go wrong leading by example. There aren’t too many things in life I can guarantee. But this is one of them.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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You can follow Victor on Twitter for management-related news, tips and articles.

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Victor Lipman recently retired from the corporate world after 25 years with one of America's largest life insurance companies. He writes about management from a psychological perspective.

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