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Tips on Leading by Example at Your Organization

Need to make some changes, big or small, at your organization? Or perhaps your team is already performing well but you are looking for ways to kick it up a notch and deliver even stronger results, and you need some new tools to get there. The advice for meeting your goal is the same in both cases: it’s best to lead by example.

In my experience leading people over the last several decades, I’ve seen time and again that change or improvement – to a team, to a culture, to a behavior, or to an entire company – must start with leaders “being the change” they’d like to see. To get the results that are needed to move things forward, we have to start with our own actions. When we model the necessary positive behaviors first, those positive choices radiate outwards throughout the entire organization exponentially.

This does not have to be an enormous undertaking. You can start small. By finding manageable ways to champion change with your own behavior, you can begin to transform results and maximize your team’s impact.

While one could easily fill a book with advice on this topic, here are two easily digestible and practical tips on leading by example at your organization based on my 45 years of leadership experience including C-Suite tenures as President of Nabisco Foods and CEO of Campbell Soup Company. Hope they are helpful.

Push and Pull

There is a principle I like to keep in mind when leading change or transformation and it is widely applicable to whatever behavior you are endeavoring to lead by example. I call it the “push and pull” principle.

As an example, let’s say you want your leadership team to work harder to provide learning and growth opportunities for their employees. (I like this example in particular because if we want our organizations to grow and prosper, we must create a culture where our people can also learn, grow, and prosper.)

To push: you would make the expectation clear to the entire team, holding them accountable to it and explaining how their adherence will be measured. Be explicit. Perhaps you would include this expectation in the way they are evaluated or you might add it to the company scorecard. Maybe you establish specific training and development benchmarks. Whatever the criteria, this part is a “push” because it challenges people to change their behavior.

Of course, important in this step is explaining why learning and growth (or whatever change initiative your are stewarding) is important. This creates visibility around the what and the why.

To pull: you would entice people to want to champion learning and growth by creating positive consequences for success and celebrating those who do it right. This step is where your modeling of the behavior is essential.

Using the learning and growth initiative as an example, a leader might announce that she will be teaching a course and invite members of her own leadership team to participate. Or he might pledge to create room in the budget for members of his leadership team to create and spearhead their own learning and growth opportunities. Or, you might share your own positive experience with learning by distributing a favorite book list or sharing a personal story about the power of growth on your leadership journey.

Important in this step is to first show the positive value of the desired behavior with your own actions and next to celebrate and recognize others who are experiencing success with the initiative. This all amounts to a “pull” because it beckons people towards the desired behavior with positive reinforcement, leading by example, and recognition.

Learning and growth is only one example. Any tweak you’d like to make can be accomplished using the same principle. In harmonious tandem, you can challenge and entice people towards change. It all starts with you.

Be a Helper

Throughout my career, I’ve discovered that the more I offer to help the people with whom I work, and the more I give them the energy to fight the good fight for our company, the more they do the same for me — and the more productive and fulfilling our relationship becomes. That’s why I advocate anchoring your leadership interactions in the spirit of the phrase, “How Can I Help?” It’s a small change to your behavior that can yield monumental results with far-reaching effects throughout your organization.

Too often people feel their conversations with their leaders are highly transactional or beleaguered by a subtext of impatience or remove. Many people feel devalued, overwhelmed, or even isolated. They don’t want to ask for help because of fear it may make them seem weak, vulnerable, or not up to the task at hand.  And when they do, they often don’t feel heard. It doesn’t have to be this way.

As a leader, you will be shocked at how powerful it can be to simply ask the next employee you speak to, “How can I help?” instead of the other pleasantries or openers you would normally use. These four words proact to their need for support, rather than waiting to react.

Usually, associates are bracing to report what they’ve been doing to help you as the leader, not the other way around.  That’s why using this phrase is disarming — in a good way. It immediately takes the focus off you as the leader and puts it squarely on the other person, thereby valuing them and making them feel heard and respected; it’s also a concise way of telegraphing that you are right there with them, that you’re in this together.  Finally, it sends the message that this is an organization that cares about people, from top to bottom.

Something as small as four little words, “how can I help?”, can metamorphosize the entire energy of your workplace. The more you do it, the more other people will do it. Slowly but surely, you’ll have created an army of helpers all uniting to collaborate and produce extraordinary results, taking your enterprise from a “me” culture to a “we” culture. Try it. And tell me what you think.

What works for you?

Hopefully, you will find these two tips and principles on leading by example in your organization actionable and highly effective. I have found them immensely useful throughout my career. Of course, I’m always eager to hear about other approaches, too. Tell me — are there additional tips and tools you’ve tried that have worked for you? I encourage you to share them in the comments so we can all learn, grow, and lead better by example.

Interested in learning more about leading by example and delivering better results? Join me at one of my upcoming leadership Boot Camps in Philadelphia, PA. I teach this class personally to empower leaders to serve with greater impact. The 2-day in-person program imparts practices you can put to work on Monday morning. And it kicks off a transformational full year of additional coaching and mentorship with me. Apply today.

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

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