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Leading by example is one of the popular terms used by Presidents, Premiers, Popes and Professionals to describe the integration of attitude, philosophy and practice toward a specific goal The person doing the leading is, by definition, engaged in a pattern of behaviors that embody the symbiotic relationship between the values of the organization and its leaders. This, unspoken, agreement is reinforced by way of the organizational history, the mission statement, the culture and the hundreds of sustainable practices that are a natural part of the organization’s existence. So, whether you are introducing a technological innovation that completely changes how we do business or responding to an environmental disaster that completely changes how we do business, the singular driving force that shapes how decisions are made and implemented are the values that are preached and practiced. What is observed in the leader are the behaviors that reflect the values and provide the clear example(s) for the team members to emulate. The effective delivery of this model lies in the inherent belief in the conviction of followers to be led by the example. What follows is the recognition that leaders don’t lead forever and many followers are anxious to lead. The emergence of a follower into the role of organizational leader is a combination of personal characteristics, professional skills, breadth and depth of experiences, timing and politics. The foundation that supports all of these elements are the personal values of the emergent leader, on display, in series of events that speaks to their ability to, comfortably, move up into a broader role of responsibility.

While it is rarely admitted publicly, most leaders recognize, and embrace, the idea that their time for leading will end, and part of their legacy is to ensure the smooth transition of leadership responsibilities by bringing up a hand-picked replacement who will continue to advance the organization’s interest and sustain the organization’s edge. It is not enough to know that a replacement has to occur, but, more importantly, to have a clear selection plan that affirms your commitment to doing your best, to bring on the best so that the best can be done. The focused view is on the internal team members because they represent your best work and, through their behavior, symbolize the manner in which you have led. When followers are ‘prepared’ to lead, it can be seen in their actions as defined by their values. In this regard, one of the biggest disappointments for a leader seeking to move onto other ‘leaderless’ activities, is the realization that their team members did not get the Values message that comes with leading. For example, it was rumored that Steve Jobs had technology conniption once he learned that the antenna issue with the IPhone was not a recent development, but had been around for a while. The issue flied in the face of his often quoted statement that, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” such that, from his point of view, team members had forgotten, or ignored, the values message of that quote. So, as he wrestles with the reality that one day he will no longer be leading Apple, this kind of aberration of his quote begs the question, ‘Who should?’ As Tony Hayward prepares for his, uncelebrated, October 1st departure as the CEO of BP, the company is left to wonder if the Values message of “to carry on its business in an environmentally responsible manner, and develop cleaner energy and renewable energy sources,” was lost on him, but will be realized in the behavior and actions of new CEO, Robert Dudley.

Leading by Example is not limited to gaining respect of team members by standing shoulder to shoulder and doing the tough jobs together, but making sure that team members understand why it is important to do the tough jobs, right.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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