You don’t. You never do.
Leading by example is based on a faulty assumption: that people will see only the behavior you want them to see and follow only the behavior you want them to follow.
News flash: the people who work with you see everything.
They see not only what you want them to see but they also see what you don’t want them to see.
They see not only what you do but they also see what you don’t do and what you choose not to do.
They see what you choose to do or not to do and to whom.
They see what you choose to do or not to do and for whom.
As a matter of fact, the more time they spend with you, the more clearly you reveal yourself to them. The longer they observe you, the less what you say matters. What matters more are your actions – and specifically how consistent they are over time.
They see when and how often you tell them what to do.
They see when and how often you ask for their opinion.
They see when and how often you admit not knowing something.
They see when and how often you admit you made a mistake.
They see when and how often you apologize… and when and how often you apologize in public when you offended in public.
They see when, how often, and how well you listen.
They see when and how often you praise in public. And how specific your praise is: not the anemic “good job!” but rather a vigorous acknowledgment of what exactly a team member does well and how that contributes to the good of the team.
In addition to being based on a faulty assumption, “leading by example” might also be caused by attribution bias (you believe that your behavior has caused theirs, that your “leading” has caused their “following”) or by buying into the narrative of the “heroic manager” (what I call the “Gandhi complex”). But that will have to wait for another post.
These are thoughts on the book I am writing. They were first delivered to readers of my free, monthly newsletter. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.