The ROI of Leading by Example is Priceless

At first glance, the title of this article makes sense. Of course leading by example is priceless. It’s an expression that we’ve all heard and have grown to like and even believe…if done right.

Leadership A Way of Being

However, as I reflect more on the ROI of leading by example, I realize to lead by example takes effort, dedication and commitment to ourselves and to others. It isn’t something that happens overnight or only shows up on days when most needed. To truly lead by example requires a choice to live by your best defined leadership principles every moment of your life. Essentially, it is a way of being.

It is also incalculably valuable, which makes it difficult to nail down with a metric—like a lot of the things we feel most strongly about in life. This brings to mind a YouTube interview on the InsideQuest channel between author Simon Sinek and entrepreneur Tom Bilyeu. Sinek asks Bilyeu out of the blue if he loves his wife, to which he responds immediately, “Yes!” Sinek’s follow up stumps him a bit: “Prove it. Give me a number that helps me know.”

Some of our most universal traits defy basic measure, even if they are easier to prove and measure over time. The same principle is at play in the act of leading by example. Over the short term, the challenges might be more perceptible than the rewards, but if you keep at it, you will eventually see lasting results, which are priceless.

Four Pillars of Leading by Example

To help define what it means to lead by example, I decided to gather insights from four primary people leaders, by asking what it means to them:

“Leading by example means never asking someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself,” said Ian Domaas, VP, purchasing at Mark’s Work Warehouse.

“Leading by example creates trust and integrity within your team and sets the tone for collaboration and teamwork,” shared Jennifer Halinda, executive director of Dress for Success Vancouver.

For Miles Sellyn, partner/VP, strategy and creative with Major Tom’s, “Leading by example is raising your hand and taking the blame when things go wrong, and recognizing others when things go right.”

Barbara Castro, manager, art department at SUGOI Performance Apparel, sums it up in three words: “Leading by example is ‘walking the talk.’”

The Feeling of Leadership

What also became clear in conversation was that, regardless of everyone’s unique definition of leadership and stories of leading by example, the constant theme was a feeling they all shared and an acknowledgement of their impact on those around them.

To explore that feeling further, for all four, leading by example is a full circle experience. When you are truly leading by example, everyone feels an emotional human connection that is real and authentic.

So if it feels good for all of us, why is it so hard to lead by example?

Five Basic Barriers to Self-Leadership

Most of us understand that leading by example is a good thing. We have either seen it in action or felt the impact of individuals demonstrating this quality. Yet, with all of these personal experiences, many of us still choose to take the easier and/or static path. We all want to be great leaders, but we seem to hold back.

Let’s consider five basic barriers before exploring how we can overcome them.

Barrier One: There is no immediate return. We live in a world where our attention span lasts an average of eight seconds and the need for instant gratification is greater than ever.

Barrier Two: Leading by example is more of a chore or task. It becomes an activity that one must do out of obligation.

Barrier Three: Leadership principles haven’t been clearly defined and articulated. How can one lead by example if they are unaware of what it means to be a leader?

Barrier Four: No time. Even when we want to show up as a leader, our natural response is to go back to our comfort zone, especially during stressful and challenging times.

Barrier Five: No personal connection. If leading by example is a way of being, there needs to be a something bigger to inspire the daily practice of leadership.

The common element here is you and your perception. Now that we have identified and owned this, we can make profitable progress together and—where it is needed most— within the workplace.

The ROI of Leading By Example

When leaders—with or without a title— are investing their time and efforts to lead by example, to show up daily as the best that they can be, this way of leading and living will and does have a significant impact on their organizational culture, their team members and their families. Unfortunately, the reverse holds true as well, making the opportunity very much a professional commitment for those seeking healthy business futures.

According to Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Dying for a Paycheck, the fifth largest cause of death in the U.S. today is the workplace. Our workplace cultures are affecting the health of our people to the point of creating anxiety, depression and suicide. Seventy four percent of employees are experiencing an “energy crisis,” according to a study conducted by The Energy Project. That equates to more than seven out of 10 people at work who are feeling overwhelmed, tired and not at their optimal level of performance.

The return of investment for the individual leading by example is their overall well-being and the health of their team and families. It’s not only priceless—it’s our duty and obligation for the sake of humanity and for our human existence to survive.

Putting Leadership Into Practice

Leaders who lead by example are consistent. To strengthen your leadership presence, try the following practices.

Practice 1: Define your leadership philosophy into a simple statement. Start by answering the following:

  • What is the meaning of leadership to you?
  • What does leading by example mean to you?
  • Who inspires you and why? • Describe a moment in your life where you embodied your definition of leadership; and
  • Describe a time when you felt you were leading by example.

Practice 2: Define your personal core values—what matters most to you as a leader and as a human being. Start by answering the following:

  • What makes you smile?
  • Describe a time when you came alive; and
  • Describe one of your proudest moments in life.

Practice 3: After you’ve completed Practice 1 and 2, make a list of actions and behaviours that will support you to lead by example and commit to one action daily for seven days. Then reflect on the experience; what worked well and what would you do differently next time? Apply the learning and try another inspired action.

Remember, to become the leader you aspire to be is a long term investment that is worth your while.

In the words of The Beatles, “Money can’t buy (you) love,” but leading by example will—and the money will follow.

Originally posted in the Fall 2018 Issue of PeopleTalk Magazine The ROI of HR.

Lorie Corcuera
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