Leaders who lead by example are mentors and role models, building business results through relationships and integrity.

Before delving into the topic of the leadership example, it may be helpful to define leaders and leadership. Beginning with the root word of lead, Webster's Dictionary defines lead as "to guide and conduct; to govern; to precede." Also from Webster's, a leader is defined as "one who leads; a guide; a captain; a head of party."

In contrast, the definition of manage is "to wield; to direct; to conduct or minister; to have under command; to treat with judgment."

Simply put: Managers manage processes, and leaders inspire and motivate others to accomplish goals. Ask yourself, which definition applies to you? Are you a leader or a manager? Which would you rather be?

Great leaders lead by example, demonstrating their values through their actions. These leaders build relationships by mentoring and providing guidance, creating cohesive teams and earning the loyalty of their employees.

There are many managers in organizations across the country yet very few leaders. How does this happen? It happens because most organizations still use an old, outdated method for hiring into and promoting people from within the organization. That method is to choose people who are very good at what they do, without consideration as to whether they can motivate and inspire people.

Managers are tactical, hands-on personalities. There is no argument that managers can achieve results. However, the results are almost always short-term results. People will do what they are told for many reasons, such as fear of losing their job, lack of education or experience making him or her unwilling to argue (even if they feel the manager is wrong), or apathy toward the company and its goals.

Leaders provide guidance. They motivate and inspire people to take action. In this way, leaders achieve long-term results through a productive, happy workforce. There are many strategies used by leaders to achieve these results. The behavior that has the most powerful impact on employees, customers and vendors is leading by example.

The next time you have a staff meeting, try this exercise. Ask everyone who has integrity to raise his or her hand. You will probably see all hands raised. Next, ask them to raise their hand if everyone that they work with has integrity. You will see many less hands. Why is this? As people, it is natural that we judge ourselves based on our intentions, while others judge us based on our behaviors. So while most people intend to always have integrity and to do the right things, the fact of the matter is that it does not always happen.

Leaders who lead by example are those exceptional individuals who, more often than not, do the right things. They demonstrate the right behaviors and follow through on promises and commitments. In addition, they act as role models and mentors, are great listeners, and do not live by the adage, "Do as I say, not as I do."

It has been said that leaders who lead by example walk the talk, but what does this mean? Paul Fireman, past chairman of Reebok International, made a promise that Reebok would overtake its main competitor, Nike, in two years. To fulfill this promise, he did not threaten or bribe the people who worked for him. He motivated his employees by showing them that he was willing to take risks, encouraging them to take risks as well.

He told them that he would do whatever it took to reach this goal. He then followed through on that promise by spending the money to build an innovative product-development program and hiring the world's top sports figures as spokespeople. Fireman talked and walked the new Reebok vision 24 hours a day.

"You need to build an enrollment," Fireman said. "I don't think you can dictate that to people. I don't think you can tell people to go, march, do this. You've got to make them want to ride along. It's a leader's job to foster those feelings. We are in this together. We are part of a team."

Leaders who lead by example are courageous. You can recognize courageous leaders by looking for the following characteristics and behaviors:

  • They provide information, encourage their employees to make decisions that they support and do not take credit for the employees' successful ideas.
  • They are continually coaching, providing honest and direct feedback, and supporting their employees. Under these circumstances, employees will build skills and rely less on the leader.
  • They empower employees and provide opportunities for greater responsibility.
  • They recognize employees' problem-solving actions and encourage risk-taking, rewarding the employee for the effort as well as the results.
  • They face conflict and confrontation on tough issues and fight the right battles for employees, customers and the organization.
  • They do what they say they will do.

Great listening skills characterize leaders who lead by example. This is different than saying they have an open-door policy. Leaders should be willing to listen to employees' concerns and ideas and seriously consider implementing their ideas whenever possible. They also must take complaints seriously and take the time to investigate claims of ill treatment or inappropriate behavior on the part of other leaders.

In today's business world, there are many distractions. Consider this example: An employee comes into your office and states that he needs to speak to you. Immediately, you know it's serious. You try to do all the right things. You put down your pen, forward your phone calls and give the employee your attention, yet it is hard to ignore the ding of e-mail that just arrived. The phone rings three times before switching to voice-mail. Others pop their heads in periodically to ask a quick question. You hear an argument in the hall. How do you turn off all of this? It is not easy, but blind motivational speaker David DeNotaris has some advice.

Since he does not have the advantage of observing body language and facial expressions while listening, DeNotaris has learned to listen, as he says, "like a blind man." In other words, he believes that everyone can learn to listen with the heart rather than the head.  

"When you are listening with your head, you're collecting facts and thinking, 'I'd better prepare something to say when this person is done speaking,'" says DeNotaris. "But when you listen with the heart, you show interest in the other person's feelings – not your own reputation. You find out what the other person wants and needs, and then you can speak in a way that meets those needs."

Learning to be a leader who leads by example is not an easy task, especially with the distractions and stress of the business environment today. Many times in coaching sessions, leaders have said they do not have any idea where to start. Try these quick activities to identify the characteristics of a person who leads by example.

  1. Identify at least one person who was or is a role model for you as a leader. This person may have been a teacher, your parents, a religious figure, an athlete or a boss, for example.
  2. Make a list of the things that they did or said that inspired your loyalty and motivated you to succeed. What characteristics and behaviors did they demonstrate that you would like to exhibit to others?
  3. How will you do this?
  4. What behaviors or characteristics do you need to change to be more like the role model who influenced you?

Leaders who lead by example are mentors, willing to give of themselves to promote the growth and development of others. These leaders get to know their employees and build relationships that last a lifetime. They learn employees' names, know about their families, and take the time to understand what motivates and inspires them. Most importantly, they practice the behaviors that motivate and inspire others. These leaders demonstrate strong ethics and moral behavior in their business and personal life.

In short, leaders who lead by example are the leaders who are competent and drive business results for the organization while building relationships with employees, customers and vendors. These are the most effective people in an organization. Unfortunately, these are also the most difficult people to find. When you find one, you must do whatever it takes to keep them in the organization, for they will take your business to new heights.