Lead by Example

“Lead by example” is such a well-used dictum that it seems to trip off the tongue without the least thought.  Even renowned management guru, Albert Einstein, said:

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.”

But what does it mean in practice, and how can we provide leadership by example in the context of a project and of making change happen?

The Gandhi Principle

Gandhi said:

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

If you are leading a change then step 1 has to be to embrace that change completely, yourself.  The simplest interpretation of “lead by example” is to adopt the behaviours you want to see in your team members and in the stakeholders you want to influence.

The Golden Rule

The next part of leading by example is setting the tone of how you want people to treat one-another.  The “Golden Rule” has many expressions.  Here’s a nice simple one:

”Treat people as you would like them to treat you.”

It’s pretty easy to slip into careless treatment of your project team – especially in tough times.  You can forget to recognise the quality of the work someone has done in your haste to point out the small detail that needs adjusting, you can be abrupt when you are in a hurry, and you can rush to say what you want and thus fail to say it respectfully.

Fearless Conversations

You may be aware of the pressure you are under and thus shy away from the conversations you need to have: tough, developmental feedback, resetting expectations, alerting the team to the implications of a setback.  People will sense something is up:

In people’s minds:

Change + Uncertainty = Conspiracy

Rumours create exaggeration and gossip begets alarm.  Stay ahead of the communication curve.

Get out of your Box

Tough times: fight or flight?

Actually, for many of us, it’s “fright”.  We want to get into a little box and curl up like a fearful hedgehog.  For box read office, behind your computer, buried in the detail.

Confidence instils confidence

Fear creates fear

Get out, get visible, lead.

Master Pragmatic Semiotics

You what?

Semiotics is the study of signs, symbols and metaphor, and one of its branches, pragmatics, examines how people respond to symbols.  Everything you do will be interpreted by the people around you: your team, your customer, your stakeholders.

Their interpretations may be spot on, broadly reasonable, fairly inaccurate or plain ridiculous, but you need to be aware of how your actions will affect the way people think and choose them with care.

Sleeves rolled up

Dirty dishes to clean?  Get in there and do them.

Toilets to clean and floors to mop?  Fill a bucket, grab some marigolds and off you go.

Leading by example also means leading from the front.  If there are jobs that are beneath you, then others will see them as beneath them too. Nothing is beneath you if it helps you discharge your responsibility to deliver your project accountably.

More on leadership in the context of projects:

Brilliant Project Leader by Mike Clayton

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