Don’t point the way with your finger. Lead with your whole body.
We live in a world consumed with image, and frankly I’m sick of it. I’m sick of people doing their best to “look good” but “aren’t good.” I’m sick of the spokespeople crying about the danger of global warming, as they continue to be the biggest users and abusers of energy. And I’m sick of the people who talk about morality as they live shameful private lives of immorality.
But that’s where we’re at in today’s image-crazed society. We worry too much about our reputation and too little about our character. As author Michael Josephson notes, “Building a reputation is largely a public-relations project; building character requires us to focus on our values and actions. Noble rhetoric and good intentions aren’t enough.”
But there’s hope. The very best leaders, the most effective leaders, the truly motivating leaders continue to realize the importance of leading by example. In fact, in the long run…
=> 1. Nothing is more critical to a leader’s success than his/her example.
Clergyman and abolitionist John Woolman pointed that out in the 1700’s. He said, “Conduct is more convincing than language.”
Every politician, every sports hero, and every TV and movie celebrity should be required to memorize Woolman’s statement … for their own good … as well as the good of everyone else. Otherwise, they may have to learn the hard way, like Johnny Todd, the baseball player. (Name changed to protect the innocent.)
Perhaps you remember the story. Timmy’s favorite baseball player was Johnny Todd. In Little League, he wore the same number as Todd. He collected Todd’s souvenir cards and memorized all of his stats. Timmy carried his baseball glove with him everywhere and hoped to one day meet his idol and get his autograph.
So the day he walked into the Burger Hut and saw Todd seated at a booth in the corner, Timmy thought it was his lucky day. As he approached the table, an elderly man walked up to Todd and asked for his autograph.
“Look, can’t you see I’m eating.” Todd growled at the old man. Timmy stood motionless, his eyes wide with uncertainty. Why was Johnny so mean to that old man? Timmy wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Just before he turned to walk away, Todd looked at him and barked, “Hey kid, what are you staring at?”
Timmy was so disappointed that he decided to trade away all of his Johnny Todd cards for the cards of other players. Some of his fellow Little Leaguers did the same thing after hearing Timmy’s story.
The incident somehow found its way into Internet forums and chat rooms. It came to light that other folks had witnessed similar outbursts from Johnny Todd. For baseball enthusiasts, the dark side of Todd’s personality was beginning to overshadow his athleticism, and a local paper picked up the story.
Then the minor incident catapulted into a major crisis for the celebrity. Sales of his jersey dropped; kids lost interest in collecting his cards, and the negative press made him less desirable to sponsors.
Unfortunately, Todd failed to realize that we never know who’s watching us. But every effective leader knows he is being watched, and his example has a huge impact on others.
=> 2. You need to be keenly aware of the example you set.
You see … everybody else around you knows what example you set. They can tell you. Your co-workers, subordinates, spouse, and kids.
As Joseph M. Tucci, the CEO of the information management firm EMC, says, “Every move you make, everything you say, is visible to all. Therefore, the best approach is to lead by example.”
Management consultant Darcy Hitchcock affirms that. She says, “Employees are professional ‘boss watchers.’ That is, what managers say means nothing … unless their actions model what they say.”
If everybody around you knows what your example is saying, the question is … do you know? You can’t afford to go to work … or even try to lead at home … if you don’t fully understand the example you’re setting. You could be leading people in the wrong direction and not even know it.
My advice? Get some feedback. Ask some Brave Questions. First find out how you’re coming across and what’s going on in the minds and lives of those you lead.
Casey Cropp from Fort Collins, Colorado, did, and she’s glad she did. Casey wrote, “I am a high school band director and have been using your ‘BRAVE QUESTIONS’ book to interact with my classes. All I can say is ‘Thanks.’ You’ve given me the tool I’ve been looking for in 26 years of teaching, a tool that helps me approach my students in new and more effective ways.”
“Let me give you one example,” Casey writes. “This past fall I was directing the orchestra for our school musical. One afternoon I had the opportunity to spend some time with the orchestra members, getting to know each other using several of your questions. We spent about an hour and a half sharing and bonding as a group, learning details about each other. I was given information about individuals that helped me to understand their needs and allowed me to work closer with them in the preparation of their music. Our trust level of each other went way up, and we became a team. The performances in October were astounding, and I could not have been prouder of their growth through this time together.”
Author and certified personal trainer Jimi Varner also had great success asking Brave Questions. He says: “About 4 months ago, I purchased your incredible, thought-provoking book, ‘BRAVE QUESTIONS: Building Stronger Relationships by Asking All the Right Questions,’ and I have seen the miraculous effects it’s had on my relationship with my soon-to-be fiancé. Although practical and simple, we have found it extremely beneficial to all of our relationships and highly recommend it to anybody in need of urgent or not-yet-so urgent relationship repair!”
Gabriel Smithson also found great success using this technique. She’s a credit manager at the Pacific Detroit Diesel-Allison Company. She says, “I was one of the first customers to buy your book on ‘Brave Questions: Building Stronger Relationships by Asking All the Right Questions.’ This is truly a great book. I’m using it in both my personal and business life, and I believe everyone should have a copy of this book.”
And then, strive to…
=> 3. Lead with an example of true character.
Your character is revealed in the way you treat people. As author Michael Josephson points out, “The way we treat people we think can’t help or hurt us (like housekeepers, waiters, and secretaries), tells more about our character than how we treat people we think are important. People who are honest, kind, and fair only when there’s something to gain shouldn’t be confused with people of real character who demonstrate these qualities habitually, under all circumstances.”
So how would people describe you? As a leader of character … who always treats everyone with respect and kindness? Or do you sometimes treat people as things to be used in the pursuit of your goals?
Your character is also revealed in the way you deal with the pressures and temptations that cross your path. Do you do the right things all the time? Or do your actions and values take a nosedive when you think no one is looking and you won’t get caught?
You see … character has to do with ACTIONS … not words. And that’s a tough standard to follow. But as journalist Richard Reeves notes, “All leaders face some crisis where their own strength of character is the enemy.”
Bottom line, Reeves is saying … if you’re going to be a true leader…
=> 4. You’ve got to walk your talk.
As someone said, “Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” Simply put, you can’t say one thing and do another and expect to be a leader who inspires the followership of others.
One doctor knew that. His story was told in Howard Goldman’s book, “Choose What Works.” The doctor noticed a woman and her son happened to be bickering in his examination room as he walked in. “What seems to be the problem?” he asked.
“My son eats sweets constantly. I’ve tried telling him that sugar is bad for his health and his teeth,” the woman explained. “But he doesn’t believe me. He’ll listen to you, though. Please tell my son to stop eating sugar.”
The doctor thought to himself for a moment and said, “Bring him back in exactly one week.”
Puzzled, the woman did as instructed and returned one week later. “We’re back,” she said. “I hope you can help me this week.”
The doctor examined the boy’s teeth, took his weight and measurements, and finally said, “Son, I have some bad news for you. You can’t eat any more sugar. It’s not good for you. And if you don’t believe me, I can draw some of your blood and have a test done on it that will prove it to you.”
At the sight of the needle, the boy agreed not to eat any more sugar.
“Thank you, Doctor,” said the woman. “But out of curiosity, why couldn’t you do this last week?”
“Because last week I still ate sugar,” said the doctor. “And it occurred to me that I wouldn’t be much of a doctor if I didn’t follow my own advice.” He knew about walking his talk.
Action: Find out if the people at work … and the people at home … see you as a person of character. Or do they simply talk about you as a “character?”