Leadership by Example

Lead by example. You’ve heard that before I’m sure. But by what example? Does it mean doing everything your direct reports do, showing them how it’s done? Of course not. You hired them for their skills, not to mimic yours. So, again, what does lead by example mean?

It’s important to recognize that it’s an honor and responsibility to have people reporting to you. Direct reports make your life easier. Their tasks free you up to focus on what you do best. Sure, it’s great that you know how to do what they do. That helps make task-based conversations easier. But what they really need from you is to show them how to lead their own teams someday. That’s how you grow a department/company.

Their success is your responsibility as much as it is theirs. Too often I’ve heard an executive lament that their direct report just isn’t getting it. Job #1 with this syndrome is for the leader to look in the mirror and determine the level of assistance they’ve given to their direct report over time. I recommend asking yourself the following questions to determine what leadership example you have been presenting:

Have I mapped out how my direct report can win?

I’ve written a lot about setting goals for your employees. This is important in two areas: completing tasks and growing careers. Too often, however, I’ve found leaders focusing far too much on the former, figuring the latter will take care of itself. But if you haven’t mapped out the goals that move your direct’s career towards a leadership position, then they will simply focus on the tasks at hand, figuring that is what success looks like. You’ll wind up with a lot of soldiers and very few captains! That’s very limiting for the growth of your department. Be sure that you determine with your directs what you mutually believe leadership success looks like.

Have I adequately responded to my direct report’s questions on their professional direction?

“I don’t have time for this right now.” Ooof! Yes, you are busy, and taking time to discuss an employee’s career goals can sometimes seem intrusive when you are on a deadline. But what example are you setting if you never get back to discussing their aspirations? Not a good one, I assure you. Make the time regularly to check in with them on their projects AND how they are developing as a leader. Doing this demonstrates a level of care that will inspire them to keep moving their career forward.

Do I know my direct’ s needs?

You may know what skills your directs are lacking. But do you know what they need to improve/advance? Just telling them they need to develop Skill A without giving them the tools/instruction to do so will leave them confused…and stressed. This is when your leadership-by-example comes in again. You need to guide them toward sources that will help them develop. And make this skill development a priority when you meet with them to discuss their overall progress.

Have we mutually created a development plan with tactical actions to operationalize this development transformation?

This is so critical! Having a development plan is paramount to keeping both of you focused. Group their tasks into leadership qualities/categories that will give them structure. It will help as you assess each direct’s progress and will be immensely helpful for each of them as they take initiative to develop on their own.

Actioning the above is leadership. And that’s what they want to see from you so that they can model their future behavior on what you’ve shown them. Remember, you are developing each employee so that they can be the future of your department/company. Make sure you show them a good example!