The Ripple Effect of Leading by Example: How the Leader's Actions Shape the Team's Success

If you walk into any training gym, you will see images on the side of each machine illustrating the movements it’s intended for and the muscle groups it works.

If you open any instruction booklet, you will see images detailing the product and how it is meant to be used.

If you search online for any kind of recipe or tutorial, you will find dozens of videos offering you insight – or, at the very least, a blog post with several relevant images.

What does any of that have to do with leadership? It reminds us that people are much quicker to do what they see instead of what they are told.

Over the course of his leadership career, Dr. John Maxwell saw this principle demonstrated time and time again – so much so that when he wrote The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, the Law of the Picture was among them.

He wrote, “When leaders show the way with the right actions, their followers copy them and succeed.”

And unfortunately, this rule works both ways: if a leader acts wrongly, those that they lead will do the same and they will not succeed… because people do what they see, not what they are told. They do what is modeled for them by their leaders – for better or for worse.

What kind of change would you like to see on your team? Improved productivity? Increased accountability? Better communication? Keep them in mind as you read the 4 principles that Dr. Maxwell relates to the Law of the Picture:

1. Your team is always watching what you do.

“Lead by example” is not just good advice – it is what leaders do regardless of whether or not they are intentional about it. Leaders set the standard; we strike the tone for our teams. With our behavior we show them what is acceptable and what is not.

2. It’s easier to teach what’s right than to do what’s right.

Author Norman Vincent Peale said, “Nothing is more confusing than people who give good advice but set a bad example.”

When I gained my first leadership title at an auto manufacturer, I was responsible for making sure my team wore foot protection when on the production floor. But because I spent so little time there, I didn’t see the need to wear the shoes myself.

That is, until I realized I was proving to my team that safety was not such a pressing concern. Once I started making the time to put on my own foot protection, my team began to do the same.

3. We should work on changing ourselves before we try to improve others.

As leaders it is natural for us to wonder how we can challenge our teams to improve themselves – for their own good and for the good of the organization. But how often do we show them that maximizing potential is a priority? In my experience as a leadership consultant, a problem or lack on the team reflects a problem or lack in leadership 9 times out of 10.

4. The most valuable gift a leader can give is being a good example.

John Maxwell also said, “Leadership is more caught than taught.” What are your team members “catching” from you?

When I consider the development of my own leadership, I find that I learned a lot more by watching great leaders than by listening to them. (Which is not to say that listening isn’t also helpful – you know what I mean!)

Let’s return to the kind of change you want to see on your team: write down 3-5 areas where you’d like to see your team improve. Then, grade your own performance in each of those areas. (If you are unsure that you can be impartial, ask someone else to grade you.)

How did you do?

If you scored low, it is probably time for you to change the example you’re setting for your team. And if you scored well, it is definitely time for you to be more intentional about how you model that behavior for your people.

That’s all for now,


P.S. What are your self-scores telling you about the next stage of your leadership strategy? You don’t have to think it through alone – I’m open for thinking partner calls. Click here to book one.

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