Setting the Example

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Quite often the phrase "lead by example" is used in reference to taking specific actions that are intended to set a particular example for an organization or subordinates.

However, whether it is desired or not, the reality is that leading by example is something that happens all day, every day.

Failing to understand this fact can have significant consequences by unintentionally presenting contradictory messages to an organization. As it is such a critical aspect to a command or supervisory position, several tenets that provide a baseline for setting the right example are worthy of presentation.

Think before you act or speak because no action or word goes unnoticed. Although simple to understand, the most difficult aspect of applying this tenet is being aware of the entire audience and how unintended observers may perceive what you have said or done.

Outside observers seldom know the entire context of a statement or action and therefore are likely to form a perception of an event that is vastly different than what you intended.

Believe in what you do and the goals you set. It is nearly impossible to convince others to work toward your goals if you are not dedicated to them yourself.

Too often, feedback is provided to subordinates about goal setting with few concrete examples from above. Make it a point to let your subordinates know about your personal goals and not just the ones set for the organization. If you are seen actively pursuing both personal and organizational goals it will become contagious. For instance, the goal of bettering your fitness score each year may become the standard for your unit.

Be yourself all the time. You were selected for the position you are in because of who you are. Trying to be a different person based on what you think is expected of you will most likely lead to contradictory behavior that someone will notice.

Never ask someone to do a task that you would not do yourself. The obvious examples are the undesirable tasks, however more important are the common tasks that fill our every day. Take the time to get out from behind the computer and help with a shop task. Push a broom or pull a weed, the person that takes over from you will have a much different appreciation for the task if they know it was important enough for the boss to take part.

Make decisions and stand behind them. Setting this example will empower your subordinates to do the same and the result will be an organization in which decisions are made and actions are taken with confidence at the lowest level. Beware; there is no better way to establish a culture of complacency in your organization than failing to simply make a decision.

Although just a few basic thoughts on how to lead by example, the ideas presented provide a baseline for setting the right example for your organization.

You can never forget that your actions set the tone for your organization and ultimately shape the performance of your unit.

Know what it truly means to lead by example and understand the forces that shape the message that is taken from a particular event. If you do that, you will understand what it means to truly lead by example, the right example, all the time.