“One thing I like about him is that he never demands what he cannot offer” I said. “If he tells you that something can be done in 2 minutes, he can probably get it done in one and a half minute. He leads by example” I continued. This was in reference to one of my favorite former bosses. He had just introduced me to his team in readiness for a training.

I have never considered myself to be a good follower. This is on account that I struggle to follow someone that has not earned my respect to lead.  This boss however happens to be one of the few that I followed effortlessly. In retrospect it was for one reason; He led by example. This reminded me of the second part of my conversation with my primary school head teacher. Remember my article on Living with purpose and enthusiasm? My election holiday catch-up with my school head teacher also included some leadership lessons.

In his words, “One of the hardest part of my career was being transferred from a school where I had introduced a great working culture, improved performance and thought I was going to retire there. I was then transferred to a school with a very low mean grade. They had all the facilities, adequate staff and resources. The work culture was however horrible. The teachers came to work late, missed lessons and did not bother about performance improvement.

I decided I was not going to push them around. I was not going to have confrontations and shouting matches. I was going to set the pace. I called for the first meeting to set targets. The meeting was scheduled to start at 7.45am and I made sure it started on time. Those who came late tiptoed with their faces down or went to class. Every staff member agreed to a performance target which was publicly recorded including myself.

If I had official meetings outside the school, I went to school first in the morning. I delivered my lessons between 7am and 9am then headed for the meeting. The staff could not tell if I had left or was still around. I never asked anyone to come to work early. They however did not want to be late for meetings or find me already in class teaching. The social gathering in the staff room during work hours also came to an end. We reviewed our targets every month and I also reported my performance during those meetings. No one wanted to report underperformance, so they all put in extra hours without coercion. In one term the shift was clear, the pupils were impressed and so were the parents.”

That was true leadership. As put by John Maxwell; Leadership is influence. In the words of John Quincy, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” This then makes leadership a set of behaviors that one demonstrates rather than a position of authority. As researched by Kouzes & Posner in the leadership challenge, on top of the list of those behaviors is modelling the way or leading by example.

To lead effectively, your words and actions must be consistent. Modelling the way begins when you take action to meet your commitments to yourself and your subordinates or followers. This means that you need to put below practices into action;

  1. Set a personal example of what you expect of others,
  2. Make certain that people adhere to the principles and standards that have been agreed upon,
  3. Follow through on promises and commitments you make,
  4. Ask for feedback on how your actions affect other people’s performance
  5. Build consensus around a common set of values for running the organization,
  6. Be clear about your philosophy of leadership.

The most important quality people look for and admire in a leader is personal credibility. If people don’t believe in the messenger, they will not believe in the message. Titles may be granted but leadership is earned. Exemplary leaders know that it’s their behavior that earns them respect. The real test is whether they do what they say; whether their words and deeds are consistent. Leaders build commitment through simple, daily acts that create progress and build momentum.

“Great leaders do not tell you what to do, they show you how it is done because the only effective way to truly lead is to practice and model the behavior you want to see in others.”


Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-gets-the-job-5439381/



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