Leading by Example

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Employees listen with their eyes more than their ears. They watch the example you set more than the words they hear you say.

As a front line leader, it is important to walk the talk and practice what you preach.

In theory, it is a simple concept — if you tell your employees that you expect them to be on time, then you should be on time. If you tell your employees to wear their safety glasses, then you should wear your safety glasses. This is certainly a great first step, but leading by example goes further than that.

Employees are looking for even more evidence that you as the leader, and the organization as a whole, really means what they say.

Here are three tips for being better at leading by example:

#1 Train, measure and discuss expectations

When employees see that you are willing to train them in areas like safety and quality, they are more likely to place greater importance on them. When you as the leader, measure and discuss performance in those areas, it further reinforces that you are leading by example.

In our book Employees Not Doing What You Expect, Irwin Schinkel wrote, “You get the lower of what you expect or accept.” And perhaps we could go one additional step — you get the lower of what you expect, accept or inspect. Training, measuring and discussing can help you lead by example.

#2 Praise the behaviors you want

Generally, people learn from the consequences of their actions and choices. Those consequences can either be positive or negative. To create a positive work environment and reinforce leadership by example be sure to offer praise when your team members meet your expectations. That could be in the areas of safety, quality, productivity, teamwork and attendance. People tend to do more of the behaviors that bring them positive consequences, so reinforce what you expect with praise.

#3 Correct the behaviors you don’t want

The flip side of praising good behaviors and outcomes is to correct the behaviors and outcomes that don’t meet your expectations. When you as the leader see something that is not what you expect, you owe it to your team to bring it to their attention. In most cases a simple comment will be enough to get the employee to change behavior. Once the team realizes that you as the leader aren’t going to accept unacceptable behavior they will be more likely to perform to your expectations.

Leading by example is a cornerstone skill for any leader at any level. By giving clear signals about your expectations, you’ll find that your team will appreciate the clarity of expectations and the fairness and consistency of how you reinforce those expectations.