Leading by example

I often think I learn more by watching people than I do by anything they say.

The positivity and kindness of others inspires me to want to be like them. There are also wonderful leaders I have worked with who were fantastic both at the big picture stuff and with their people skills. Their honesty, respect and collaboration seemed to come very easy for them.

I have spent a large part of my life aligning myself with such people, hoping some of it will rub off.

I believe the example we set with our behaviour is more persuasive than anything we say. Actions speak much louder than words. This is certainly true for parents and preachers, but it is particularly true if you are in a leadership role or a senior member of staff at your workplace. Learning is best caught, than taught.

In the military, it is often said that command is granted, but leadership is earned. The same applies for leaders in other workplaces. Although we may be given a position that warrants a certain amount of respect, we earn the trust of our colleagues by acting in helpful ways, over time – being approachable, involving others in decisions that affect their work, and being consistently positive and respectful.

Leaders who talk about respect, but act in ways where colleagues feel devalued, do nothing to build trust and cooperation from their colleagues. Whereas leaders who have earned trust, will have team members who will follow them anywhere.

Fortunately, leaders don’t have to be perfect. In fact, their willingness to be honest, admit their mistakes, but take action to correct them, also builds trust.

One of my favourite managers, when he was stressed, was known for sometimes swearing and losing his temper. But this human behaviour was far outweighed by his acknowledgement of his humanity, his good humour, his support in helping all of us to grow, and his wonderful modeling of the importance of our work.

The balance needs to be right. It is important that any imperfect behaviour is significantly outweighed by good interactions. Perhaps this is the reason that my children tend to remember times I am silly and playful and appear to have forgotten the times I am impatient and grumpy.

When people are being human, including people in leadership roles, there is a time to cut people some slack. But there are also times to hold people accountable.

It doesn’t have to be done in a confronting manner, of course. It can be done more in a work-it-out style, asking if they are Ok, or suggesting that they may not have been aware of how they were coming across. However, there are also occasions when more firm conversations may be needed, perhaps from senior management.

People tend to look and learn from others – particularly the power-brokers. Here I am referring to those in leadership roles, team members with long service in their workplace, and individuals with a strong personality.

The behaviour modelled by such people sets the standard for acceptable behaviour. When these behaviours, good or bad, become dominant, this is what ultimately determines the culture of a workplace.

If we want to encourage a culture that is positive, respectful, and open to change, we often need to gain consensus about the behaviours that are to be shared by all, have the power-brokers consistently doing the right thing, and hold people accountable who are not acting accordingly.

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