Lead By Example For Results That Matter

Any discussion about great leaders usually includes the cliché that the best leaders lead by example. Most people agree that the attributes of those we have willingly followed influence our actions, especially when they are in a leadership role.  People observe the actions of leaders carefully.  They notice everything leaders do, whether it is what they would want their team to emulate, or not. Since people are watching and are being influenced by leader’s behavior, for better or worse, it begs an important question.  What is the example leaders should want to be setting?

Sarah Sobieski Chicago Leaders Who Empower

Your Actions Speak Louder Than Words As A Leader

This might seem like a simple question, but in practice, it isn’t that clear; and even when it is clear, it isn’t all that easy. If you’re a manager, a supervisor or in any position of authority and your vision of ‘leading by example’ is creating a troupe of people that replicate you, you are misguided. It won’t really create the results you desire, even if your behaviors are fully worthy of being followed.  What ‘leading by example’ should mean is that your actions influence others to behave and respond in ways that people deem valuable and appropriate for your organization’s results.


sarah-sobieski-chicago-executive-post-its.jpg.jpgLeaders best serve when ego is left out of it and when the focus centers on behaviors that improve the organization. Leaders excel when they describe what they really want from others by clearly communicating expected  behaviors in addition to making sure that the desired behavior is being emulated by others. The following attributes are some of the most sought after traits in team members and members of leadership:

  • Engaged and empowered
  • Flexible and open to change
  • Focused good attitude
  • Good work ethic


This is a good list, but what do these things really mean as we work each day?
If you can’t answer that question clearly, you can’t ‘lead by example’ because you don’t know what the example is supposed to be. In other words, if we are going to lead by example in relationship to that list, we need to know what we really mean, and determine what behaviors create those outcomes. Let’s examine an example as it relates to the five items on the list above.

While examples could be given for each of these ideals, and what the behaviors would be, that ultimately isn’t very helpful to you. Because what these things mean in your organisation matter more than what they mean to others. Your ownership of these ideas and behaviors make a difference. Below is one example to help you get started:

Engagement and empowerment


If we want our influence to be positive and productive, we must be clear on what we want from others, and then make sure our actions match our words.  

When we make sure our actions match our words, we are leading by example in an intentional and productive way.

  • Clarify what you are looking for from your team
  • Analyze your actions to determine if you are delivering those things personally
  • Use this information to translating what you want, into the behaviors that produce it

If you want engagement and empowerment, consider the following behaviors:

  • Act like an owner – make decisions based on the highest good for the business and objectives
  • Be proactive by asking what you can do to help or improve a situation
  • Be accountable by recognizing that there is always part of the project or result that you can impact in a positive way
  • Try things in service of the desired goal. And if you make a mistake, own it and learn from it

The ‘lead by example’ cliché is a cliché because it is true – people are influenced by each other’s actions. Through commitment to learning to be the best version of you as a leader there will come a time that more often than not you will say all the right things and know that those words will significantly influence your team. However, even the most seasoned leaders would most likely view this viewpoint as unrealistic. Although our words matter, what we do matters far more.

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