Leading by Example

If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably heard at least one sports announcer say, after a huge loss, that the losing team just “didn’t show up” that day.

This rather insightful phrase doesn’t refer just to team members; it also refers to coaches. The best coaches are the ones who are out on the field and involved in every play — from the first pitch or kickoff until the clock runs out. If the coach is totally engaged on the highest, most intense level, chances are that the players will be, too.

And as every sports fan knows, championships aren’t just won during the game — they’re also won during every practice session. That’s why the best coaches are out there on the field working along with the team, ensuring that each player is performing to the utmost of their ability.

With this in mind, here’s a thought for you: Why don’t we follow this model more in business? Why aren’t more CEOs, managers and other business leaders staying late, working overtime and weekends alongside their team members? Do they think it’s not necessary, or do they think that the advantage of being a manager is that you’re no longer obligated to do the grunt work?

Detachment has no place in business. Success means more involvement, not less — no matter what your position (and especially if you’re in management). If your team is working late or challenged by a major issue, it’s your responsibility to be there too because you’re their leader. If you’re not there, then you’ll give the impression of a coach who has deserted the team.

You might wonder, “Why should I be there? My team is well trained — in fact, some of them have skills that I don’t — and I’ve set things up so that everything can run fine without me.”

If that’s what you’re thinking, then it’s time to rethink your involvement level, because your team needs for you to be there. Likewise, you need to be there for the good of your team, as well as for your own personal good — and here’s why.


Honing Your Skills

There’s a common misconception that, once you’ve reached senior management level, you’ve “made it” to the extent that you no longer need to worry about honing your skills. However, if you care about your business or your career, then nothing could be further from the truth.

Everyone needs daily practice — whether they’re a concert pianist, a star athlete or a business manager. Tom Brady has been a championship NFL quarterback since 2000; but players say that during practice, he’s the first to arrive and the last to leave. The result? Six Super Bowl championships.


Inspiring Your Team

As a leader, your presence means a lot to your team members and can even make the difference between success or failure. By showing up — even if your presence doesn’t seem crucial that day — you’re letting your team know that you’re committed, that you care and that you want to see them succeed, too. And this level of commitment also has the best kind of boomerang effect because it also contributes to your own personal growth as a business leader.


Be Accountable to Your Team

As a leader, if you say you are going to do something — do it! Leadership is not about saying you will do something and then pushing it off on someone else, or worse, not doing what you commit to. Leadership is not about being right all the time, and when things go wrong, putting the blame on others. One of the biggest leadership attributes is being accountable and owning what you say you are going to do. Along with that, just like you have seen a sports coach step up to the microphone at the post-game press conference and say, “I blew it. I made a bad call” — as leaders in our organizations, we need to do the same thing when we fail to be accountable or lead the way we should.



We hear about leading by example a lot — but what does it actually mean?

First and foremost, it means showing up and being there, in a constructive way, for your team. Likewise, it also means cultivating a positive attitude, no matter what happens. If a sale doesn’t happen, or a client is lost, you can do a healthy analysis of what went wrong without stressing the “wrong” part of the equation. Dealing with this scenario in any other way could result in negativity, which can quickly erode the healthy, productive atmosphere you’ve worked so hard to develop in your team.

In much the same way, you can exercise the same grace under fire simply by working that “smile muscle” that we’re all born with, but often forget to use — especially when things aren’t going our way.

Leading by example also means never pointing the finger of blame — and, hardest of all, admitting when you’re wrong. Likewise, it means accepting help from your teammates and showing appreciation for it. It also means showing that you value your team members’ individual skills, as well as their everyday contributions to your business. 

It’s not easy to be a great leader. If it was, everyone would be one. But the path to great leadership is strewn with a multitude of non-actionable practices — practices such as smiling and remaining positive (especially when you don’t feel like it); managing your own stress (and everyone else’s); never spreading blame; and, no matter what, being there, night and day, for your team. By following these practices, you’ll bring an integrity to your business that will inspire, encourage and motivate your team members to new levels of achievement and, perhaps, even greatness.


Questions to Consider

  1. How do you lead by example in your organization?
  2. How do you motivate your team as a leader/coach?
  3. Is it more important that you are right as a leader or that you are willing to admit you were part of the problem?