Saturday, September 22, 2007

Leadership by More Than Example

Leadership by example is the organizational equivalent of motherhood and apple pie.


Not that I'm knocking it. I've intoned its virtues to many a group and have ground my teeth when leaders fail to hold themselves to the same standards they rigorously apply to their teams. When it comes to communicating values, however, leadership by example is far too passive.


When you only use your example to demonstrate the expected forms of behavior, you may not making things worse but you're probably not making them a whole lot better. You can wander about, expecting your followers to emulate your example but, despite your best efforts, most of them haven't noticed.


Not that your team members aren't perceptive. It's just that they're busy with their jobs and wondering if that mark on their arm is cancer and if their kid is going to pass geometry and whether their old car will last another year.


Amid all of that, the glow of your grand example is easily overlooked.


So what does this mean?


It means you've got to talk to people about what matters most. You've got to talk about values and standards and which items should take priority. You have to explain why you took certain decisions and where the unit is headed. You need to note why technical mistakes will usually receive far less discipline than a values mistake and you then have to tell them that you expect them to speak up when you are failing to lead by example.


In short, you need to engage. If you think they are going to read the cosmic vibrations that you send off whenever you enter a room, get ready for disappointment. If you believe they ponder your deftly placed hints, you need to get out in the field more often.


Neither you nor they are that good.


Your leadership must be directly and clearly expressed. You're not writing a Victorian novel. You're leading people who have little time and patience for playing Twenty Questions or charades.


Don't suggest your values. Discuss them.


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