Research tells us that when an employee quits a job, there is a 70% likelihood that the reason is because they have a problem with their manager. The reasons can vary, and sometimes the problem lies with the employee, but more often than not it will be because they have lost trust with their team leader. As I work with teams, I’ve observed that one of the factors that causes employees to struggle to trust their leader is the confusion caused by the conflicting messages they receive. It could be summarised as: ‘I can’t hear what you are saying because the noise of what you do every day drowns out your words.’

To ‘lead by example’ does not mean you never get things wrong. It does not mean you have to spend huge amounts of time with team members. It does not mean you have an open-door policy where you are constantly interrupted any time your staff have a question or demand. To lead by example does not mean you have to be their friend or can never challenge them to lift their game and do better.

A leader builds trust and respect by consistently leading by example in their mood (or attitude), relationships with people, and commitment to effective and productive work practices. A leader who consistently models a good example in these three areas will be doing what is required to set the whole team up to be successful. The personal discipline required is a small price to pay.

Mood and attitude

  • You set a consistent tone or atmosphere for the organisation and for your people.
  • You work on yourself to ensure the energy you bring to your role is strong every day.
  • You are true to your word. You do what you say you will do. You have learned to follow through and make things happen.
  • You respect yourself and your time and create an environment where everyone is respected.

Relationships and people management

  • You take time to connect and build healthy working relationships with each of your people. In a large organisation, you work at the relationships with the key people but are aware of people down the line all the time.
  • You manage people according to who they are not just according to who you are.
  • You have a flexible leadership style rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • You do not separate yourself from the team but stay accountable for your role in the team.
  • You admit to your mistakes and genuinely apologise for any wrong done.
  • You give public praise and private correction, so people always feel respected.

Effective work practices

  • You explain the vision and direction of the team clearly and as often as required.
  • You assist people to know their role and make it clear how what they do impacts the results of the team and makes a difference to the organisation.
  • You help each team member to keep stretching and learning to fulfil their potential not just do a job.
  • You create an environment where people can contribute, where their efforts are valued, and where they are motivated to do their best work.
  • You take responsibility for the overall team results and do not blame others, or make scapegoats of individuals in front of others.

If you lead by example in the ways outlined, you will become the kind of leader with whom people love to work. You will build trust and respect from those you lead. Your teams will almost always achieve their objectives. Team members will have ownership and motivation to contribute strongly. The team environment will be dynamic and inspiring. You will build a workplace that no one wants to leave. Such workplaces do not just happen. They are built by leaders who understand that their consistent example is the most important part of leadership.